Two byproducts of group decision making have received a considerable amount of attention by researchers in OB. As we’ll show, these two phenomena have the potential to affect the group’s ability to appraise alternatives objectively and to arrive at quality decision solutions.
The first phenomenon, called groupthink, is related to norms. It describes situations in which group pressures for conformity deter the group from critically appraising unusual minority, or unpopular views Groupthink is a disease that attacks many groups and can drastically hinder their performance. The second phenomenon is called group-shift. It indicates that in discussing a given set of alternatives and arriving at a solution, group members tend to exaggerate the initial positions that they hold. In some situations caution dominates and there is a conservative shift More often, however, the evidence indicates that groups tend toward a risky shift. Let us consider at each of these phenomena in more detail.
Group think: have you felt speaking up in a meeting, classroom, or informal group but decided against it? One reason may have been shyness.
On the other hand, you may have been a victim of groupthink, the phenomenon that occurs when group members become so enamored of seeking concurrence that the norm for consensus overrides the realistic appraisal of alternatives courses of action and the full expression of deviant, minority, or unpopular views. It describes deterioration in an individual’s mental efficiency, realty testing and moral judgment as a result of group pressures.
The symptoms of the groupthink phenomenon are:
1. Group members rationalize any resistance to the assumption they have made. No matter how strongly the evidence may contradict their basic assumptions, members behave so as to reinforce those assumptions continually.
2. Members apply direct pressures on those who momentarily express doubts about any of the group’s shared views or who question the validity of arguments supporting the alternatives favored by the majority.
3. Members who have doubts or hold differing points of view seek to avoid deviating from what appears to be group consensus by keeping silent about misgivings and even minimizing to themselves the importance of tier doubts.
4. There appears to be an illusion of unanimity. If someone doesn’t speak, it is assumed that he or she is in full accord. In other words, abstention becomes viewed as ‘Yes’ vote.
Group think appears to be loosely aligned with the conclusions such drew in his experiments with a lone dissenter. Individuals who hold a position that is different from that of the dominant majority are under pressure to suppress with hold or modify their true feelings and beliefs. As members of a group, we find it more pleasant to be in agreement – to be a positive part of the group than to be a disruptive force, even if disruption is necessary to improve the effectiveness of the group’s decisions.
Leaders should actively seek input from all members and avoid expressing their own opinions, especially in the early stages of deliberation. Another thing is to appoint one group member to play the role of devil’s advocate. This member’s role is to overtly challenge the majority position and offer divergent perspectives. Still another suggestion is to use exercises that stimulate active discussion of diverse alternative without threatening the group and intensifying identity protection. One such exercise is to have group members talk about dangers or risks involved in a decision and delaying discussion of any potential gains. By requiring members to first focus on the negatives of a decision alternatives, the group is less likely to stifle dissenting views and more likely to gain an objective evaluation.
Group shift: In comparing group decisions with the individual decisions of members within the group, evidence suggests that there are differences. In some cases, the group decisions are more conservative than the individual decisions. More often, the shift is toward greater risk.
What appears to happen in groups is that the discussion leads to a significant shift in the positions of members toward a more extreme position in the direction in which they were already leaning before the discussion. So conservative types become more cautious and the more aggressive types take on more risk. The group discussion tends to exaggerate the initial position of the group.