Student group dynamic has on the behaviour and

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“Using examples from organisational practice,
discuss the symptoms of, and solutions to, groupthink.”



Groupthink describes the situation wherein “loyalty requires each
member to avoid raising controversial issues” (Janis, 1982) referring to
individuals in a group. Catherine Oliver (2013) describes groupthink as peace
and harmony, though lacking full vision and clarity. The common basic consensus
of the term groupthink however is the overall effect the group dynamic has on
the behaviour and thoughts of individual group members.


Some of the most prominent examples of groupthink were the launch
by NASA of the space shuttle Challenger, resulting in the catastrophic failure
of an explosion causing a loss of seven human lives and confidence in the
organisation, as well as the launch of the Hubble telescope which was created
with a flawed main mirror which was vital for the telescope to work. These are
incidences of group think as the NASA teams involved were “supressing conflict
at all costs” and wished to launch “despite any concerns or contradictory
indications” (Turner, Pratkanis, 1997)


Groupthink is comprised of a variety of symptoms, the first of
which is known as an illusion of unanimity. This is the case when the head of
the group incorrectly makes the assumption that the members of the group all
share the same opinion on how they should proceed (Riccobono, Bruccoleri, 2015)


An example of this occurring in practice occurred during the Bay
of Pigs plan, wherein members of the team including Arthur Schlesinger had
doubts about how successful the plan would be and yet did not voice concerns in
meetings. (Houghton, 2015)


In this case what Schlesinger did was indicative of the second
symptom of groupthink, known as self-censorship. Which is where, out of fear of
stepping outside the norms of the group ideas and views which would not agree
with the current group position are not expressed, which often results in
negative consequences as it limits the amount of views expressed during
decision making processes, making any decisions made ill-informed to some


A potential solution to self-censorship is the leaders of the
group expressing clearly that the truth is more valuable to them than any lapse
in group cohesion due to a result of input deemed contradictory, or counterproductive
by the rest of the members of the group.


A third symptom of groupthink is an illusion of invulnerability,
which is when a group of likeminded people feel as though they have considered
all possible options to such an extent that their plan is flawless. However, this
often leads to over confidence and as a result of this a failure to plan for or
consider a number of potential, however unlikely, different outcomes.


This can be seen in France’s total military defeat in 1940 which
Ahlstrom and Wang (2009) stated was down to an overreliance and utter faith in
defence as opposed to the German offence. This belief that defence had an
innate advantage and would always succeed with their two comparable armies,
held by the French high command resulted in France’s resounding defeat.


Another symptom is collective rationalisation, sometimes referred
to as an “echo chamber” (McCann 2013), this term denotes the idea that members
of a group will re-enforce their own belief whilst shutting out others, leading
to a skewed understanding of certain decisions due to a lack of a range of
views, and therefore decisions being made off of imperfect information.


Regarding an organisational example of this, McCann (2013) states
that senior leadership of British financial services were out of touch and
suffering from collective rationalisation, being one of the many causes of the
financial crisis of 2007-2008


Groupthink also results in an inherent belief of morality,
essentially meaning that the group believes that their actions are moral and
objectively the correct way to conduct themselves which can result in the group
ignoring or being more inclined to overlook any ethical or other consequences.
(Hensley, Griffin, 1986)


One potential example of this was the Major League Umpires Association
(MLUA) mass resignation. The belief that their own cause was just led them to
fail to consider the resolve of the MLB, which resulted in the loss of 22 jobs
and the dissolution of their union (Sloane, 1996)


A sixth symptom is the stereotyping of the views of other groups,
this reinforces the previous symptom, an inherent belief in morality (Hart,
1991) as it discredits other groups ideas and categorises them as the “other”
meaning that they should not be trusted mainly because they are not part of the
cohesive group.


A good example of this in popular culture comes from the film Mean
Girls, this is because the members of each group in the movie stereotype the
other group as wrong, for example the group comprised of the unpopular students
view the popular students as cruel and evil, whilst the popular group of girls view
the opposing group as “losers” and both are unwilling to listen or interact
with the other.


Direct pressure on any group dissenters also occurs as a symptom
of groupthink which means that any ideas, or topics that go against the group’s
decisions or may impede progress for any reason are discouraged. This can be
done through a number of ways, for example nudges in the form of mocking
dissenting opinions and joking about them with the rest of the group, or a push
with potential dissenters being faced with the threat of expulsion from the
group. This has the effect of any ideas that may be seen to be controversial
being supressed and therefore encourages safe ideas that fit the norms of the
group, which would make the group less adaptable and potentially result in
lower productivity.


The final symptom is a self-appointed role known as the
“mindguard” which acts as a protector of the group from unproductive and
dangerous ideas (in their own view) but in practice tends to simply supress any
criticism and new information once the group’s objectives goals and means to
achieve them have already been established. Whilst the suppression of
information may have it’s benefits in the form of being able to complete tasks
faster due to fewer ideas being contributed, it will likely result in important
ideas not being considered and again decisions being made based on imperfect


Group cohesion, whilst not a named symptom by Janis also plays a
role in the appearance of groupthink, this is because as groups become more
cohesive a “clubbish” attitude develops and members tend to fail to question
and criticise other group members (Houghton, 2015)


 An example of this was seen
during the Obama administration with Nancy-Ann DeParle and Jeff Zients
inquiring with their subordinates until they communicated the truth about
certain situations, no matter how bad the news. (Sunstein, Hastie, 2015)


A solution to groupthink as a whole is simply for all members of
the group to be aware of groupthink (Rogelberg, 2017). If the members of the
group are aware of the potential impacts that groupthink can have on themselves
they are likely to be more adept at recognising the signs of groupthink and
much more diligent in regards to their research and considering their own ideas.


An effect on groups which is essentially the opposite of
groupthink, which tends to result in a decline in performance due to things
like poor decision making, is known as synergy which is an example of when the
performance of a group of individuals is an improvement on the performance of
the same individuals working alone (Clark, Clark, 2015). This could also be employed
as a solution for groupthink wherein the performance of the group’s members
becomes so enhanced, that it prevents groups from falling into the same traps
of failing to think of ideas due to an illusion of invulnerability.


Due to a variety of the symptoms of groupthink, including the
illusion of invulnerability and the stereotyping of other groups ideas, the
awareness of the group regarding the ideas of other groups is very limited as a
result of groupthink. Due to this one solution to groupthink would involve
including an outside third party to assess the ideas of the group. This would
allow a new perspective and prevent “tunnel vision”, defined as an “effect in
which a singular opinion comes to be perceived in a more positive light than
normatively justified by available information” (Posovac Et al. 2010) from
taking place. However, this realistically depends on the skills of the third
party as they would have to experts in the field the group is working in to
effectively assess their position and offer acceptable feedback.


Another similar solution would be to appoint a group member as a
devil’s advocate. This, in my opinion is one of the best solutions to
groupthink as, not only does it increase the number of viewpoints and
perspectives being expressed, but it also allows a group member to voice
concerns without fear of ridicule and being ostracised from the group due to
being expected to voice controversial views. The position of devil’s advocate
acts as a type of shield for group members to productively disrupt the social norms
of the group.


In conclusion groupthink can be
incredibly detrimental to groups that prove susceptible to it. It is likely to
result in limited viewpoints, non-innovative ideas and a fall in performance
levels, if not effectively countered by the group itself, or another party.

However, groupthink itself may not be
inherently bad. While it tends to lead to these negative consequences in the
majority of situations the lack of time spent considering a wide array of
varying options would greatly reduce the amount of time spent on decision
making increasing productivity and being exceptionally important depending on
the situation.

 Groupthink also has the potential to limit the
amount of bad ideas coming into the group. Due to the stereotyping of other groups
ideas in a negative light, highly skilled teams are likely to benefit from
this, especially when interacting with inferiorly skilled groups.

Despite this, the benefits of
groupthink seem to be highly situational, more so than its drawbacks and because
of this groups should take every measure possible to counter and avoid
groupthink occurring in order to ensure the group remains as effective and
productive as possible.



One of the clearest examples to me of
progress I have made is my researching skills. Before I came to university I
was overly reliant on internet sources and used virtually no non-online
resources to garner a better understanding of a topic, and whilst the internet
is a great resource for learning about new topics I’ve learned that a lot of
the information can be unreliable for various reasons e.g. any biases for
writing up articles, or they may simply not be academically viable. Due to this
I plan to be a lot more selective in choosing my sources of information in the

Although an area that I am still not
quite as confident in is referencing and this is predominantly because I think
that I still do not have enough experience as I’ve only written up two
assignments and my skills will continue to progress as I get more
experience.  Secondly, I dislike how
referencing interrupts the flow of writing and results in a loss of ideas that
I think reduces the quality of my work, though I know this is something I’ll
have to get used to.

In my SWOT analysis that I worked on
towards the start of the first term I noted some of my weaknesses as time
management and motivation, and although I still consider them particular
weaknesses I’ve certainly made progress on them as I feel much more of an
inclination to actually work now and I’ve dropped the habit of leaving work until
the night before almost completely, which was something I would do in secondary
school and college.

Ultimately, I’m happy with the
progress that I’ve made at the university and look forward to developing my skills



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