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Groupthink – A Counterproductive Leadership Situation

Background:

Groupthink is an extreme
version of consensus building in a workgroup. 
It has been defined as a “deterioration of mental efficiency, reality
testing, and moral judgment in the interest of group solidarity.”
  In an organization, consensus is a valid and
highly valuable method of leadership which encourages the members of the group
to support the organization’s goals with enthusiasm.
  However, consensus can also be detrimental to
the group’s goals if differing opinions are not heard and adequately
considered.
  In extreme cases, it can
even be destructive to the organization or to those who depend on the
organization
(Dubrin, 2004, p. 293).

The linked video shows one
well-known example of groupthink which ultimately led to the loss of the space
shuttle Challenger. 
In the Challenger
tragedy, dissenting opinions were not adequately heard out and considered.
  Pressure on the group ultimately led to
silence as they made their decision to proceed with the launch in spite of
concerns with the weather and the effect of cold temperatures on the space
shuttle.

Objectives:

Following my discussion, you
will:

- Understand the
steps/symptoms of groupthink

- Be aware of the costs of
groupthink when other opinions are not genuinely considered

- Be more aware of the effect
of pressuring decisions too rapidly in a risky venture

- Have a framework for deciding
when to continue to dissent and when to steer the consensus to a compromise
solution

Discussion:

The video shows groupthink in
action as the few dissenters are ridiculed and eventually coerced into silence
for fear of being further ridiculed as well as proven wrong.


  1. Note the steps in establishing groupthink.  Janis L. Irving has established eight
    symptoms of groupthink which can be considered as the steps necessary for
    groupthink to emerge.
      All may not
    be necessary but at least several should be present.
      They are: 

·        
Illusion
of invulnerability

·        
Collective
rationalization

·        
Belief
in inherent morality

·        
Stereotyped
views of outgroups

·        
Direct
pressure on dissenters

·        
Self-censorship

·        
Self-appointed
mindguards (
What is Groupthink?, n.d.).

 

2.     
Watch
as the dissenters move from confidence to doubt, and finally to assenting
silence.


  1. Could decisive dissent have avoided the tragedy?  What could the dissenting officials have
    done to stop the process?

  2. What were the risks to the officials if they continued
    to dissent?

Dissent is not without risk,
just as consensus has great value to the organization in achieving its
goals. 
However, cost is also possible if
varying opinions in risky ventures are not heard.

Important Points

Consensus building is a
valuable and essential process of group activity and communication. 
It leads to a workable solution so that the
organization can move forward toward its goals.
 
However, pushing dissenting opinions aside in risky ventures without
seeking compromise or mitigation of the concerns also has the impact of
damaging the organization severely.

The business leader needs to
understand that dissent, like agreement, is perfectly normal and even
necessary. 
If we hire the best minds to
staff our organizations, we need to hear them out when the voice concerns.
  Pressuring them to accept solutions that are
disagreeable to them without attempting to mitigate the concerns can easily
have disastrous effects.

Summary:

In your work as a leader in a
business organization, groupthink remains as a significant danger. 
While building a consensus is a valid
strategy for leadership, the danger is that we can become so focused on
establishing the consensus that we intentionally or unintentionally silence
dissent without resolving the concerns that the dissenter has voiced.
  If the concerns later prove to have been
valid, damage to the organization can result.
 
Ultimately, the manager has a responsibility to make a decision.  However, the best approach is to generate all
possible information on the subject and to reach consensus on the best
solution.
  Pressure to get all
participants to acquiesce to the majority should be avoided to the degree
possible, until the dissenting concerns are adequately addressed.
  This also, is a management judgment and the
lead manager has ultimate responsibility for the decision.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYpbStMyz_I&feature=player_detailpage

 



 

References

Dubrin, Andrew J.  (2004). 
Leadership:  Research Findings,
Practice, and Skills
.  Boston: 

Houghton Mifflin.

What is
Groupthink? 
(n.d.).
  PsySR
Web site
.  Retrieved on Sep. 18, 2011
from

http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm

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