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What is Group Think? …and How to Prevent it | Video

What is Group Think? ...and How to Prevent it | Video

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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The Origin of Group Think

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.’

Group Think leads to decisions based on ‘what we all know’.

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’.

Other features of Poor Group Decision-Making

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.

Preventing Group Think: Towards Better Group Decisions

  1. Start with a diverse team.
  2. Don’t let leaders, experts, or charismatic individuals state their opinions or preference upfront.
  3. Start with a round-robin of facts, data, and evidence. Follow up with another round robin of comments, questions, and interpretations of that evidence. This forms a solid base for discussions.
  4. If you must take a vote, put it off until after discussion and then ideally, do a secret ballot to establish the balance.
  5. Appoint a devil’s advocate to find flaws in data and arguments.
  6. Before a decision is finalized, ask everyone to take the position of a critical evaluator and look for errors, flaws, and risks.
  7. Divide the team into subgroups to discuss the issues and have them debate the decision.
  8. Invite outsiders into the team to create greater diversity of thinking and overcome prejudices and confirmation bias.
  9. Give all team members equal access to raw data, so they can re-analyze it for themselves.
  10. Facilitate the discussion to ensure every voice is heard and respected – even the least senior and least forceful members of the group. If they deserve their place in the group, consider their perspectives to be of equal value.

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About the Author Mike Clayton

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 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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