Kristin J. Arnold

Article Summary:

Groupthink hinders team decision making and suppresses individual thinking.

Groupthink Hinders Decision Making

As your team goes about making decisions, it takes just the right combination of courage to speak up and consideration to hear from others. Team decision making is a give and take, a searching for a win-win.

However, when everything seems to be going swimmingly well – the team is focused on the goal, the team is making good progress and decisions are made by consensus – your team may be prone to “groupthink.”

Groupthink is a subtle shift from effective decision making to conformity and an unwillingness to “rock the boat.” As a result, the team makes low quality decisions. Groupthink can have a tendency to supress individuality.

Famous examples of groupthink include President Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion and the US government’s processing of information from Japan before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Author Jerry Harvey popularized this phenomenon with his story of the “Abilene Paradox.” It was a hot summer afternoon and someone in his family suggested they drive to Abilene for lunch. Everyone agreed to the idea. As a result, they took a despicably long and hot trip in a car with no air conditioning!

No one had a good time. After they arrived back home, they discovered that no one really wanted to take the trip but no one wanted to say “no.” No one had the courage to challenge the idea. Even the person who made the suggestion didn’t want to go!

You are a prime candidate for groupthink if your team:

  • Is Highly Cohesive.
    The team works well together, enjoys each other’s company and has “bonded.”
  • Avoids Different Viewpoints.
    The team discounts contrary information and/or discourages dissent. They may even be insulated from other people or teams with different viewpoints.
  • Makes Easy Decisions.
    Consensus comes easily – almost too easy. Silence is usually accepted as consent.
  • Is Highly Stressed.
    The team is under high stress to deliver a quick solution.

Team members can become so concerned about avoiding conflict that they fail to challenge bad ideas. To avoid groupthink or the Abilene Paradox, be willing to challenge ideas, no matter how loyal you feel to the team. Make sure that no point of view dominates. Collect information anonymously from team members. Encourage the role of the devil’s advocate. Don’t accept one point of view too readily, and challenge assumptions.

Kristin J. Arnold, CMC, CPF, CSP helps corporations, government and non-profit organizations achieve extraordinary results. With years of team-building and facilitation experience, Kristin specializes in coaching executives and their leadership, management and employee teams, particularly in the areas of strategic, business and project planning, process improvement, decision-making, and collaborative problem-solving. For more information visit www.extraordinary

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