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What are the conditions that are likely to lead to Group Think?


There are various views by writers on this topic, but from my own observations over a long career in banking, accounting and financial services where I have personally seen many examples of Group Think the following elements were invariably present:


  • A dominant leader
  • A lack of an organization wide Innovation Program to manage ideas and creativity
  • A strong culture of uniformity
  • A lack of a problem solving, decision making framework and process


The writers at Wikipedia have similar experience and thoughts here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_think


Highly cohesive groups are much more likely to engage in groupthink[clarification needed]. The closer they are, the less likely they are to raise questions that might break the cohesion. Although Janis sees group cohesion as the most important antecedent to groupthink, he states that it will not invariably lead to groupthink: ‘It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition’ (Janis, Victims of Groupthink, 1972). According to Janis, group cohesion will only lead to groupthink if one of the following two antecedent conditions is present:

  • Structural faults in the organization: insulation of the group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures, homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology.
  • Provocative situational context: high stress from external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, moral dilemmas.

Social psychologist Clark McCauley‘s three conditions under which groupthink occurs:

  • Directive leadership.
  • Homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology.
  • Isolation of the group from outside sources of information and analysis.


The Boss is always right!


I can recall being introduced into a new department of my employing Bank and informed that the way to get ahead was to be enthusiastic about the Boss’s ideas and to never disagree with him.  Of course when something that the Boss had initiated went wrong it was always someone else’s idea!  This occurrence is not uncommon.




The main symptoms of Group Think




In order to make groupthink testable, Irving Janis devised eight symptoms that are indicative of groupthink (1977).

  1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
  2. Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
  3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
  4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
  5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”.
  6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
  8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

Groupthink, resulting from the symptoms listed above, results in defective desision making. That is, consensus driven decisions are the result of the following practices of groupthinking:

  1. Incomplete survey of alternatives
  2. Incomplete survey of objectives
  3. Failure to examine risks of prefered choice
  4. Failure to reevaluate previously rejected alternatives
  5. Poor information search
  6. Selection bias in collecting information
  7. Failure to work out contingency plans.


In this post I have looked at when Group Think is likely to occur.  It is necessary to know this if you are to be forewarned as a leader and therefore can take action to prevent it occurring.  This is important in the information age when you can have widely spread participants in a Task Force.

In the next post I will look at what steps a leader can take to prevent Group Think occurring once he is aware that it is a possibility.


Jack Taggerty






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