Janis defines groupthink as “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when members strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.” His major proposition is that groups displaying most of the symptoms of groupthink are more likely to display symptoms of defective decision making, resulting in poor policy outcomes. The crucial determinant of groupthink is moderate to high group cohesion combined with one or more other antecedent conditions. In turn, these factors contribute to defective decision making by the group.
1.2 The Groupthink Model
The groupthink model (Figure 1) provides a visual representation of the theory of groupthink, including the conditions under which groupthink is likely to occur, the symptoms of groupthink, and the consequences resulting from groupthink. According to the model the antecedent condition of a moderately or highly cohesive group (Box A) interacts with other structural faults of the organization (Box B-1) and/or provocative situational context factors (Box-2) to increase the probability of the groupthink tendency. The groupthink tendency is expressed in the observable consequences of the symptoms of groupthink (Box C).
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When a group displays most of the symptoms of groupthink, we can expect to find that the group will also display symptoms of defective decision-making (Box D).
Defective decision-making normally lowers the probability of a successful decision outcome (Box E).
The theory predicts that when a group is moderately or highly cohesive (Box A), the more of the antecedent conditions listed in boxes B-1 and B-2 that are present, the greater the chances of defective decision making as a result of the groupthink syndrome.
Figure 1 : The Groupthink Model
1. 3 Groupthink Symptoms
The model presents three types of groupthink symptoms described here in outline form.
TYPE I: Overestimation of the Group
1. Illusion of Invulnerability
This symptom is defined as excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks with little consideration of what would happen if the worst outcome should occur or the consequences of the solution proposed by the group. This always includes the overestimation of the potential success of the solution or the abilities of the group.
2. Belief in the Inherent Morality of the Group
This symptom implies that the group ignores the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
TYPE II: Close Mindedness
3. Collective Rationalization
This is an effort by members of the group to discount, withhold, or distort warnings and other information that could threaten the group’s belief by convincing themselves as to the validity of the group’s position. The group does not realistically or seriously consider outside information or other potential decision alternatives.
4. Stereotypes of Out-Groups
“Just as the groups are overconfident in their own powers and morality, they tend to believe their opponents are weak or foolish.”. This results in an underestimation of their opponent’s ability to counter or interfere with the group’s plan.
TYPE III: Pressures Toward Uniformity
This occurs when members hold back expressing their doubts or deviations from the apparent group consensus. This may reflect each member’s inclination to minimize to himself the importance of his doubts and counterarguments.
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6. Illusion of Unanimity
Self-censorship and other devices create an environment of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view. This environment is also facilitated by the false assumption that silence means consent.
7. Direct Pressures on Dissenters
The group uses direct social pressure on any members who express descent with the majority’s views, stereotypes, proposed solution, or commitment. Group pressures and norms make it clear that dissenting viewpoints and behavior are contrary to expected group norms of loyalty.
8. Self-Appointed Mind-Guards
Members of the group take it upon themselves to protect the group from adverse information that could threaten the group’s shared complacency and to keep others in line with the supposed consensus.
1.4 Limitations of the Theory
Groupthink is only one factor among other influencing variables that could affect the quality of decisions. One cannot assume that groupthink is the cause of practically every miscalculation or poor decision reached by a group. Groupthink theory suggests that poor decision outcomes are more likely when groupthink symptoms are present. Groupthink does not always result in a bad decision. Even when groupthink is occurring the group consensus and inherent biases could result in developing an effective solution to the problem at hand. Likewise, poor decisions cannot be avoided by simply avoiding groupthink. Other factors such as a lack of information, inadequate time for decision-making, poor judgment, pure luck, and unexpected actions by adversaries also play a role in the probability of a successful decision outcome.
Other determinants of the decision process, such as the group’s competence, the heuristics used in the process, and the entire organizational set-up in which the group operates is likely to affect the quality of the decision. Simply stated, some group biases and decision-making failures cannot be explained in terms of groupthink. The value of groupthink is that it helps explain one factor that could lower the probability of a successful decision outcome. Working in groups provide several advantages such as more knowledge, the ability to generate more ideas, longer and more accurate memories, and better evaluation of concepts, opinions, and courses of action. Groups generally have a greater probability of discovering errors in plans and usually better standards and rules for decision making.
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“This is the power of the team mind: to create new and unexpected solutions, options, and interpretations, drawing on the experience of all the team members to generate products that are beyond the capabilities of any of the individuals.” The problem occurs when group pressures, biases, and other behaviors reduce the quality of the decision. Groupthink tends to strengthen the group’s cohesion and reinforce self-complacency and group biases among its members, while drastically lowering the quality of decisions. The effect in many groups is decisions that are definitely inferior to decisions made individually. Groupthink theory offers insight into understanding how various factors and conditions combine to affect decision outcomes.
Groupthink theory explains one factor that can contribute to defective decision-making. This makes groupthink an important area of exploration for business management research concerning decision-making. Understanding how groupthink affects decision-making and developing techniques to reduce the occurrence of groupthink provides an opportunity for improving decision-making.