Group Think is nasty. It leads to poor decisions… sometimes dangerous ones. So Project Managers need to know what it is, how it happens, and how to prevent it.
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Group Think was first identified in the 1970s, by the social psychologist Irving Janis. Janis found that the group’s dynamic can inhibit the exploration of alternatives.
People find disagreement uncomfortable. So, the group looks for consensus before it is properly ready. As the group approaches consensus, it rejects dissenting voices. Janis said:
‘Concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive group that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action.’
Members feel inhibited from challenging the consensus and relevant information, ideas, challenges are not fully introduced. The group tends to higher collective confidence in a decision than individuals have in the same decision made individually. Groups tend to endorse higher risk decisions than the individuals would. Perhaps this is because of the degree of confidence group members have in certain individuals. This is called ‘Risky Shift’.
People with more extreme positions are more likely than others to have clear arguments supporting their positions and are also most likely to voice them. This enhances risky shift.
The order in which people speak can also affect the course of a discussion. Earlier comments are more influential in framing the discussion and molding opinions.
Once people have expressed an opinion in a group, it can be hard, psychologically, for them to change their minds. Charismatic, authoritative, and trusted individuals can also skew the debate around their perspectives – which will not always be objective or ‘right’.
Finally, it takes time for a group to discuss a topic and time is often at a premium. There will be pressure to curtail discussion and move to a decision.
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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