Groupthink is present when a cohesive team experiences tremendous pressures for conformity and people strike for unanimity at the expense of critical thinking. This is more likely to arise when groups are highly cohesive and face great deal of stress and pressure. Groupthink results in undesirable decisions even if the group is cohesive and members have great intellect, deep knowledge and good intentions.
Symptoms of Groupthink
Group feels that it is invulnerable and it cannot fail.
Members rationalises away disconfirming data and discount warnings.
People think they are better than rivals and maintain stereotype views of the enemy.
Majority pressures the group to express a dissenting view
Group believes that it supports a particular proposal without knowing what each individual believes in.
People self-censor their views because of fear to challenge the majority. They do not want to be marginalised or criticised.
Individuals alter out information that might challenge the conventional wisdom within the group.
Space Shuttle Challenger
Groupthink is present in space shuttle Challenger case. One of the worst space disasters was led by flawed decision making process and decision made a night before the launch. In 1986, Kennedy Space Centre experienced the Challenger explosion killing seven astronauts. 73 seconds after the launch, space shuttle crashed. Launch temperature was well brow the previous temperature at which the shuttle engines had been tested and this resulted in an explosion.
Most or all of the members of the decision making group have an illusion of invulnerability that reassures them in the face of obvious dangers. They become overoptimistic and willing to take extraordinary risks. This may cause them to ignore clear warnings of danger.
Mentality of overconfidence existed in Challenger’s case too. Due to extraordinary record of success of space flights (NASA pursued 55 successful missions), members believed they could not go wrong this time.
Group members collectively contract rationalisation that discount warnings and other forms of negative feedback. People do not reconsider assumptions each time they recommit to past decisions.
In the Challenger’s case, managers took engineers’ comments as inclusive. Discussions became twisted and no one detected this. Engineers found themselves being forced to prove that the boosters were unsafe.
Individuals in the group believe, without questions, in the inherent morality of their position. They tend to ignore ethical and moral consequences of their decisions.
One MTI manager tried to stop the launch, but statement occurred during the brake. Most of the members did not hear it. Those who did, however, ignored the statement.
4. Stereotyped Views of Others
Groupthink can be recognised by stereotyped views of opposition. Anyone with a competing opinion is dismissed. They del that opposition is stupid or too weak to understand and deal effectively with the apparent problem.
NASA officials felt they completely understand the nature of joint problem and never seriously considered the objection raised by MTI engineers. Instead, they disintegrated and badged the opposition and their information and opinions.
5. Pressure on Dissent
Members often apply direct pressure to anyone who questions the validity of arguments supporting the decision or position favoured by the majority.
In the Challenger’s case, two officials pressured MTI to change it’s position after they originally recommended that the launch should not take place. These two officials MTI personnel to prove that it was safe to launch rather to than proving the opposite. Top MTI management overruled engineering staff and recommended to launch.
Members tend to censor themselves then they have opinions and ideas that deviate from the group consensus. People minimise doubts and counter arguments.
For instance: MTI vice president who previously presented information against the launch, was letter pressured by NASA and accepted rationalisations for launch.
7. Illusion of Unanimity
Group members share an illusion of unanimity concerning judgements made by members speaking in favour of majority view. There is an assumption that any participant that remains silent is in agreement with the majority opinion. Group leader and other members support each other by playing pup points of convergence in their thinking at the expense of fully exploiting points of divergence that might reveal upsetting problems.
As an example in Challenger’s case, no participant from NASA ever openly agreed with or took sides with MTI in the discussion. Silence from NASA was amplified by the fact that meeting was a teleconference linking the participants at three different locations.
Members assume the role of guarding the minds of other in the group. There is an attempt to shield the group from adverse information that might destroy the majority view the facts regarding appropriateness of the decision.
In the Challenger’s case, some technical information concerning the history of the joint problems was withheld at the meeting.
Results of Groupthink
Group discuss few or no alternatives.
People do surface many of the risks associated with the plan that appears to have support of the majority.
Once an option is dismissed, it is rarely reconsidered to see if it is bolstered and made more plausible.
Group does not seek outside experts
Group exhibits confirmation bias with regard to how it gathers and analyses information.
Contingency plans are not discussed.