Groupthink and conformity in vocational education (including video)


The concept of groupthink provides a summary explanation of reasons groups sometimes make poor decisions.

Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherance over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.

The Encyclopedia of Business, 2nd ed. [] says, “Groupthink occurs when the pressure to conform within a group interferes with that group’s analysis of a problem and causes poor group decision making. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages that can sometimes be obtained by making a decision as a group—bringing different sources of ideas, knowledge, and experience together to solve a problem.”

“Psychologist Irving Janis defines groupthink as: “a mode of thinking people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures.” It can also refer to the tendency of groups to agree with powerful, intimidating bosses.”

“The concept of groupthink provides a summary explanation of reasons groups sometimes make poor decisions.”

Symptoms of Groupthink

Janis has documented eight symptoms of groupthink:

1.Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.

2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.

3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.

4. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.

5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.

6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.

7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.

8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

When the above symptoms exist in a group that is trying to make a decision, there is a reasonable chance that groupthink will happen, although it is not necessarily so.

Groupthink occurs when pressures for unanimity seem overwhelming, members are less motivated to realistically appraise the alternative courses of action available to them.

These group pressures lead to carelessness and irrational thinking

Decisions shaped by groupthink have low probability of achieving successful outcomes.

Remedies for Groupthink

Decision experts have determined that groupthink may be prevented by adopting some of the following measures:

a) The leader should assign the role of critical evaluator to each member

b) The leader should avoid stating preferences and expectations at the outset

c) Each member of the group should routinely discuss the groups’ deliberations with a trusted associate and report back to the group on the associate’s reactions

d) One or more experts should be invited to each meeting on a staggered basis. The outside experts should be encouraged to challenge views of the members.

e) At least one articulate and knowledgeable member should be given the role of devil’s advocate (to question assumptions and plans)

f) The leader should make sure that a sizeable block of time is set aside to survey warning signals from rivals; leader and group construct alternative scenarios of rivals’ intentions.

Practical Exercise:

Vocational Education and Training, and Training Packages

As an exercise, review the consequences of Groupthink and consider how they may or may not apply to each of these:

1. Vocational Education and Training,

2.Training Packages,

3. Private RTOs,

4. Public RTOs

Consequences of Groupthink for:

a) incomplete survey of alternatives

b) incomplete survey of objectives

c) failure to examine risks of preferred choice

d) failure to reappraise initially rejected alternatives

e) poor information search

f) selective bias in processing information at hand

g) failure to work out contingency plans

h) low probability of successful outcome


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