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Once & For All: Stopping Sexual Harassment at Work

What is “Groupthink” and How Can I Avoid It?

Have you ever been part of a group – maybe a workgroup, a sports team, or a committee – where everyone was so eager to get along, not rock the boat or make a unanimous decision that it affected group members’ ability to challenge a decision, propose alternatives, or speak up at all?

If so, you’ve experienced, first-hand, the phenomenon called “groupthink.”  

When psychologist Irving Janis began theorizing about groupthink in the early 1970’s (while studying disastrous large-scale policy decisions like the Bay of Pigs Invasion), what struck him repeatedly was the inability of well-intentioned groups  to see beyond their own narrow focus, to rationally consider alternatives, and to foresee how their course of action would seriously threaten – and in some cases destroy – the groups’ very goals and principles. Also notable in each case was the extreme desire group members reported to “please one another,” to be perceived as team players, and to retain their membership in the group.groupthink_video

Groupthink can strike groups of any size, in any department, at any organization. Because the risk groupthink poses to organizations is nothing less than ineffective group decisions that can lead to negative (even catastrophic) outcomes —  employees and leaders must learn to avoid groupthink by spotting it when it occurs.

One effective way to educate teams about groupthink is the Groupthink video from CRM Learning. It features Dr. James K. Esser explaining the 8 symptoms of groupthink: the more of these symptoms that are found in any decision-making group, the more likely it is that the group will develop groupthink. The Groupthink video also shows a haunting re-enactment of the meetings and decisions leading up to the fateful launch of the space shuttle Challenger, which Dr. Esser and others have studied as an example of faulty group decision-making, likely due to groupthink.

The best way to avoid groupthink is to create an “open” climate during decision-making processes – especially during meetings.  Leaders need to encourage free discussion and non-judgmental attitudes when others are speaking. They must avoid isolating the group from outside influences – even bringing in “outsiders” to help challenge assumptions and think critically about the problem the group is facing, and how data or information is being analyzed. Outsiders who don’t have expertise that directly links to the matter at hand, or who are in a different specialty area altogether,  can be valuable for asking new questions and thinking about problems entirely differently.

Similarly,  leaders and group members alike should be empowered to take on the role of “critical evaluator” – someone who has the power to challenge the group’s rationalizations and assumptions.  Critical evaluators lead the way in thinking through the potential outcomes and consequences of various decision choices.

Provide your groups and teams with the tools they need to avoid workplace groupthink with the Groupthink video from CRM Learning. It uses the space shuttle Challenger disaster and other historic examples to explain this phenomenon and how groups can avoid it.

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