Link Between Groupthink and Quality of Decision Making

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Groupthink is a psychological state that occurs in a group of people. These people somehow desire to have order and a certain understanding in the group. Sometimes, this results in irrational or wrong making of decisions. This could even result in pathological disagreement in the group, mainly in decision-making. That is why it becomes a major factor in many poor made decisions. It is basically that “loyalty requires each member to avoid raising controversial issues“ (Janis, 1982) in a group. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2010) defined group think as “a pattern of thought defined by misconception, forced fabrication of consent and agreement to group values and ethics”. That is why it is said that groups bring out the best as well as the worst (Janis, 1982). This groupthink theory was discovered three to four decades ago and has been accepted ever since. Some believe it is just a myth and others believe that it has some truth to it. Whether this theory is accurate or not, has not been confirmed yet. As of now it has been more effective in large groups rather than small, which it was based on originally.

Symptoms of Group Thinking

Symptoms of group thinking are traditionally regarded as part of a single process related to poor decision-making by groups. This study investigates the symptoms of group thinking and reflects two different processes that vary depending on the trust that people have in a decision approved by the group. It is also claimed that previous studies with qualitative approaches can lead to an unreal correlation between group symptoms by creating a past perspective meaning when people have evidence that they have made the wrong decision (Henningsen, 2006). The eight symptoms of groupthink are:

  1. A mirage of being unaffected: the group members fail to feel fear and start taking risks without thinking.
  2. Unbalanced decisions: members disagree and start thinking individually.
  3. Faith in essential morality: members do not listen and explain away their reasons instead of listening to the whole group.
  4. Typecast views of other groups: the group makes up negative remarks of others that are outside the group.
  5. Direct pressure on those who object: members pressure any in the group who try to disagree with the wrong typecasts, misconceptions, or unneeded commitments of the group, taking such opposition as disloyalty.
  6. Self restriction: members withhold their objections and counter-arguments.
  7. Believe to be united: everyone behaves as if all the group members have consented to the decision when most of them do not voice their objections.
  8. Withholding information: some members think that they are protecting the group from outside groups by keeping secrets that might threaten group’s authenticity (Montier, n.d.).

To consider the symptoms of groupthink in a local group, we can take an example of a team that has to do a project together. For example, if an organization asks a project team to create new software for the period 2000 as a customer service specialist, the team collects software requirements and starts building a product. During the test phase, a member of the project team detects an error that causes software to crash even though there are more than 20 people who might be using the app. The problem is that they have to postpone the project for three-weeks. Right after that the project team participants are thanked by the sponsor for the work and promised a bonus of 20% if they finish their work earlier than expected. Project team participant that detected the error to the problem reports to the project manager who shares that information with the team. Team members have actually showed sign of ‘shared morals’ that the defect repair does not justify the delaying of the project, because people will not use the software in groups of more than 10 at the same time. The project team continues to work with the software and finishes the software in two weeks. A day after the release of the software faults occur and the customer considers it not usable anymore (Bloch, 2012).

In this example, the problem was that the project team and the managers knew of the time needed to create software that works flawlessly. The team agreed that at least two years of creating, testing and implementing software of this complexity are usually required. However, the project team and management payed attention on the deadlines set by the sponsor and others opinions to complete the commitment in unrealistic terms. Based on the symptoms of group thinking, the project team showed the illusions of invulnerability, being very optimistic and taking risk knowing that they cannot complete project without any significant problems. Group thinking plans can have irreparable consequences if the signs of stress are deceived or ignored due to internal or external pressure (Bass, 1991). Groupthink can occur in any group, mostly those that have less group discussions and ignore differing views of group members. Some say that group think makes groups that practice stopping themselves from objecting and making sound decisions, to rule out team members from considering alternatives.

The reason that happens is defective decision making. To overcome such affects of group thinking as mentioned in the above example, the project team should practice incredulity. It is not easy to achieve as one might have to face the rest of the groups criticism, but it is necessary nonetheless (Welch, 1989). Cohesiveness is also a solution to avoid bad decision making in a local group structure. It occurs when the members have common interests. This helps them bond and work to reduce conflict as much as possible. Shared leadership is also a solution. That is decision is not made and approved by just one person but multiple decisions are made by different members. Shared leadership is affective when the members respect the others authority and consent to his vote.

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Groupthink on a National Level

Groupthink theory has been observed in large groups and is most effective there. To see it on a national level we can take an example of the world war. Soldiers of different nations fought each other in the events of the war. Due to heavy bombing and violence the groups of soldiers who had to make group decisions were affected by group think vigorously. In another example, in 1974, the Watergate scandal was also a result of groupthink.

The Watergate outrage became the subject of the American political and academic community. Analysts have tried to take this route of domestic politics, hinting that the group must act within the structure of the group of President Nixon and his advisers. Green and Connolly figured it out first hand that the group's thoughts were linked to the hiding of Watergate (Connolly, 1974). Raven made a very detailed attempt to use group reflection to hide Watergate (Raven, 1974). There were many symptoms, but he also concluded that the reason for failure was that there was not enough cohesion in the group. The core team of Nixon and his other team were analyzed using sociometric methods. Crow points out that the Nixon group can still be regarded as a very cohesive group - despite their personal oppositions they all wanted to be part of this group with all their heart and soul and stand in the center of this group. They depended heavily on their leader, and this is what united them (Raven, 1974). Raven, who is not completely satisfied with the group-thinking hypothesis as an explanation of what has happened, also offers other theoretical perspectives of group dynamics that may be useful in this respect. Wong McCarthy presented the results of a detailed analysis of the contents of the White House transcription records, which also reveal too many symptoms of group thinking (Wong-McCarthy, 1976). In the second edition of his book, Janice also examines the Watergate case and again explains the group's thinking, focusing on a much smaller group: Nixon, Holddeman and Erlichmann. Group cohesion is an effective way to avoid the theory of group thinking.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 is an excellent example of collective thinking. A number of factors, such as misconceptions and general arguments, have led to the recklessness of US naval officers on Hawaii. The United States intercepted Japanese messages and discovered that Japan was armed to storm somewhere in the Pacific. Washington took action by security personnel in Pearl Harbor, but their warning was not taken seriously. They assumed that the Japanese empire was taking action in the event of the usurpation of their embassies and consulates in hostile areas. The US Navy and the US Army in Pearl Harbor also shared the reasons why the attack was unlikely. Some of them include:

  • “The Japanese will never launch a large-scale surprise attack on Hawaii, because they will understand that this will cause a total war in which the United States will certainly win”.
  • “The Pacific Fleet, concentrated in Pearl Harbor, was an important deterrent against air and sea attacks”.
  • “Even if the Japanese were reckless to send their couriers to attack us, we could certainly find and destroy them on time”.
  • “No warship anchored in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor can never be sunk by torpedoes launched by enemy aircraft”.

The Americans under estimated Japanese imperial army and due to group thinking had a huge loss at Pearl Harbor. Their illusions and belief in morality lead them to regret the decisions made. Collective rationalization was also a symptom. The attack could have been avoided if the US army had not relied on their rationalization and taken precautions instead. They required someone to object to their decision despite the lack of ranks.


The debate on groupthink and decision quality has continued since decades and will continue on. In the meantime we can conclude that groupthink theory has made a main contribution to the decision making process by taking it from rather abstract into very tangible judgment on quality of decision process and outcomes in the eyes of important events, for example in huge international crises. Also very important is the complex blend of small-group dynamics. Janis's work on groupthink has inspired many interdisciplinary hard works. Groupthink and other psychological concepts provide a very useful equalizer to the strong biased level of organizational example. In this respect, it is ironic to see that despite Janis's own typical carefulness in outlining each step in the deductive sequence of a case analysis (in particular in his Watergate case study), the very popularity of groupthink may, in fact, act as an deterrent to careful knowledge base integration (Courtright, 1976). This emerges clearly from the unscholarly adoption of sections on 'the dangers of groupthink' in much policy analysis and management handbooks. In the meantime, it is worthwhile to establish with greater precision the anterior and dynamics of groupthink, and arrive at decisions based on better grounds i.e. when, how, and why group think occurs. From there on, we can follow Janis's lead in trying to prevent groupthink, as well as further research its expected positive purpose in exact types of decision situations. This should be done by social scientists from different disciplines using different methodological analysis.


  1. Bass, B. M., 1991. From transactional to transformational leadership.. In: Organizational Dynamics. s.l.:s.n., pp. 18(3), 19-31.
  2. Bloch, M. B. &. L., 2012. Delivering large-scale IT projects on time, on budget, and on value.. Harvard Business Review.
  3. Conolly, G. a., 1974.
  4. Courtright, J. A., 1976. Group think and communiction processes, Iowa: University of Iowa.
  5. Henningsen, D. M. E. J., 2006. Eaminig the symptoms of Groupthink and retrospective sense making. In: Small Group Research. s.l.:s.n., pp. 37(1), 36-64.
  6. Janis, 1982. In: s.l.:s.n., p. 12.
  7. L., I., 1991. Victims of Group think. In: Political psychology. s.l.:s.n., pp. 247-278.
  8. Montier, J., n.d. The Little Book of Behavioral Investing . In: s.l.:s.n.
  9. Raven, 1974.
  10. Raven, 1974. p. 311.
  11. Welch, D. A., 1989. Crisi decision making recnsidered.. Conflict of Resolution, pp. 33, 430-445.
  12. Wong-McCarthy, 1976.
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