Groupthink is a prevalent process in many organizations and businesses. This paper will examine the definition of groupthink as it relates to management decisions compared with similar group performance factors and situations leading to the thoughts and processes of business decision making, group dynamics and interpersonal operations within the group from both a business standpoint and a psychological standpoint. These standpoints will evaluate the effects of dominance, cohesion, anxiety and group norms leading to either effective or defective group process and group decision making.
As with all group dynamics there are many factors involved such as race, gender, religion, political and cultural views. The paper will examine the interactions involved within a group and examine how groupthink is often allowed to be the overall choice made by the group. The author will also examine the difference in definitions form the Janis (I. L. Janis, 1982) model and the Management text book definition (Bateman, Snell, 2011) to gather a sound definition for business purposes. GROUPTHINK IN ORGANIZATIONAL MANAGEMENT Organizations and managers must make critical decisions on a daily basis.
As business is such a highly complex environment spanning both national and global markets decision making must be thought of in a larger field of view taking into account many factors such as bias, culture and customer attitude to name a few. No one person generally has all the knowledge or experience to tackle every conceivable issue that may arise or need to be considered. A good manager or leader knows that they alone are not the only one to solve the problem and thus look to others to help with the puzzle needing to be solved.
There is a substantial need to gain broad spectrum opinion and ideas in business today which leads effective managers to seek and develop effective groups to provide that broad spectrum and increase idea flow from different perspectives. The “Brain-Storming” in business today is much more complicated and involves large numbers of variable factors that can best be resolved by the group process allowing for varied input and expertise information to be injected into the final decision making process.
This does not always define an effective group or process as we will see throughout this paper. Decision Making Management must make decisions in different ways to handle different problems on a daily basis. Many of these decisions are programmed decisions based on past experience and working knowledge based on procedures already in place. These programmed decisions are normally simple in nature and are more of an automatic response versus having to think of or develop a new solution.
As we know, things are not always as easy as we may wish and in business, with its ever changing nature, problems and issues arise that require the manager to be creative and adapt new thinking and new solutions to properly make an effective decision. This nonprogrammed decision making process involves the manager weighing the good with the bad and attempting to identify all the unknown variables. It is at this stage that an effective manager or leader knows to review his limitations and seek guidance from others with the knowledge to provide information needed to develop and informed and effective decision.
The adage “knowledge is power” comes to mind and the manager, leader seeks out those who can assist in providing that knowledge to lower risks and gain a better reward. The effective manager, leader will practice stages of the decision making process, as they normally might, in identifying the problem and generating alternative solutions. In the process of attempting to generate solutions the manager would best be served by obtaining that knowledge of others to compensate their own. This is where they may decide to form a group and begin the group process to ultimately solve the problem and make the best decision possible.
Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing In the decision to form a group to aid in difficult decision making there are several key items management must consider in selecting members of the group and being aware of possible negative effects of the group members involved. One of the first items to be considered is the size of the group needed and what skills or knowledge is required and what skills or knowledge each member may provide. The smaller group may require less group maintenance but provide less needed input.
A larger group may provide more information but require a higher degree of group maintenance thus rendering them less effective. Management may choose to seek well known members or possibly new members. Newer members may provide new ideas and concepts while more well-known members could tend to adhere to the current policy and procedures and not be as creative and more satisficing. Group make-up must also avoid dominance type personalities to allow for a more free flow of ideas and creativity thus reducing group anxiety.
Group management must be foremost in the mind of the manager to best achieve the goals and allowing for the best decision to be made. Knowing each person in the group individuals personality can be critical to proper selection but as with all people each are different and demonstrate different personalities in different situations. Group management must be maintained and observed to avoid conflicts based on personality and not creativity. Short of management being trained in psychology a group of members is selected based on management’s best knowledge and understanding of each individual member.
Forming is the stage of group dynamics where the members first come together and normally demonstrate polite and positive attitudes to one another, as in any greeting situation, and is usually short in time. The next stage of development in the group is often difficult and delicate as members try to determine their role and place within the group. Storming identifies this stage by the way in which the members may question the validity or purpose of the group, including those within, and challenge or attempt to assert authority within the group.
They may also feel overwhelmed by the task at hand and not yet understand their purpose of being there. It is not uncommon for groups at this stage to fail or cause some members to feel undervalued. When all, or most, of the difficulties are settled to member’s satisfaction the group moves forward with an understanding of their place within the group. Norming is the stage where the group comes together to identify the common goal and progress with the understanding and social acceptance of the group members as a whole. Forward progress and the ability to share in the group vision or goal being established, next stage, performing, is achieved.
The group now functions well together and their work begins to bare the fruit of their labor. Process and structure have been established and work continues to achieve the main objective as group members satisfaction has increased. Managing Group Dynamics in Decision Making As we now have a better understanding of group dynamics in their basic form we realize that management must remain vigilant in all of the stages but certainly the performing stage the most. It is at the performing stage where most can go wrong and where complacency is most likely to occur.
Group members are now comfortable in their role, leaders in the group have been well established and the work of the group may continue as if on autopilot. This may lead the group to fall into the trap of familiarity and allow the status-quo. Other factors may emerge from leaders or members within the group such as dominance and familiar cohesion where members chose to avoid disagreement and merely agree to consensus. Groupthink Phenomenon Should the group be allowed to fall into this trap it would be clear that management has failed to recognize the problem thereby allowing the creativity and effectiveness of the group to become ineffective.
This phenomenon was described by Irving Janis (1972, 1982) as faulty decision making in a group when members do not consider all alternatives and desire unanimity at the expense of quality. There are several variations to the groupthink model such as “The term groupthink is appropriate only when the concurrence seeking emerges prematurely, thus curtailing thinking and discussion, and increasing the likelihood of poor decision outcomes (Longley and Pruitt, 1980). This variation does not always hold true in all cases. Based on groupthink in juries it is also evident that the information has been discussed and thought of critically but the jury member (group member) gave in more to peer (group) pressure from either the authoritative jury foreman, jury members or merely the desire to agree for their own personal benefit, such as the desire to end their sequestration if involved in a lengthy case. Groupthink Variations Janis (1972, 1982, 1989) defined groupthink as the extreme concurrence sought by decision-making groups. Groupthink is most likely to occur when a group experiences antecedent conditions such as high cohesion, insulation from experts, limited methodological search and appraisal procedures, directive leadership, and high stress combined with low self-esteem and little hope of finding a better solution than that favored by the leader or influential group members.
Such conditions lead to symptoms of groupthink such as illusions of invulnerability, collective rationalization, belief in the inherent morality of the group, stereotypes of outgroups, pressure on dissenters, self-censor-ship, illusions of unanimity, and self-appointed mindguards” (Turner, Pratkanis, Probasco, Leve,1992). Causal factors in groupthink seem to not fit only one model such as Janis describe.
There are varied reasons group members seek concurrence unanimity in decision making, emotion, anxiety and coercion are some of only many reminding us that in managerial decisions we must remain mindful of the group members involved and maintain an active role in managing both the group and the decisions that come from within the group. If a manager is effective at management they will be better able to recognize the possible factors within the group before a faulty or ineffective decision can be made. Conclusion
In examination of the decision making method we can see that there is a much larger degree to utilizing the group method requiring the manager to not only manage the personnel but also manage the group. A thorough knowledge of group dynamics is most important when selecting group members which can be difficult at times when expecting group performance based solely on an individual’s subject knowledge with little to no understanding of their interpersonal skills. The manager must be willing to accept risks certainly, if they expect to gain the best possible solution with the most creativity available.
But the effective manager must also invest time and observe the group at different stages and evaluate member selection within each stage to ensure the proper choice made is still the best fit. The effective manager must be alert for telltale signs of conflict within the group and be prepared at all stages to make replacements available to include the group leader or dominant members within the group. Managing personnel on a factory floor and managing decision making groups are two very different levels which require a far greater knowledge and understanding on the manager’s part.
If a manager is not able to recognize interpersonal skills and weaknesses then there is little chance they can effectively manage a group and expect positive results from that group nor would they recognize the proper decision to be valid or invalid. In the business world of today that could make the difference between being successful or going out of business. As was stated early on, managers are not expected to be psychologists but a truly effective manager will have and know the basics to understanding human behavior to remain an effective manager.