Groupthink

Groupthink is a social psychological phenomenon that happens when a group’s desire for conformity or cohesiveness overrides critical thinking, leading to irrational or dysfunctional outcomes. The deep longing for harmony we sometimes feel in our social groups, workplaces, political parties and so on can lend itself to an unspoken philosophy of agreeing at all costs. Sometimes this requirement to agree is explicit, as with many fundamentalist religious sects, cults, and strict families.

When under the spell of groupthink, the participants will minimize conflict to reach a consensus decision quickly, without evaluating the potential options carefully or deeply. They avoid bringing up controversial ideas, issues, or alternative courses of action — potentially preventing the group from even entertaining one or more decisions that might be better than the favored frontrunner. Independent thinking and individual creativity are suppressed in this environment, leading to less “mental performance” overall within the group.

Groupthink creates an “ingroup” that has an overconfident conviction they have the best solution because of the illusion that so many trusted people back it, and an “outgroup” that is underrated and often outright dismissed because it prefers a different solution or decision. Groupthink can even lead to dehumanization and persecution of the outgroup, as well as intense peer pressure to conform within the ingroup — all of which can be psychologically, emotionally, and even physically damaging through violent actions undertaken against the outgroup.

How to avoid groupthink

  • Select teams and groups that come from diverse backgrounds and offer a wide range of points of view and experiences
  • Foster an environment of openness and encourage people to speak their minds without fear of repercussion or judgment
  • Have a brainstorming session to ideate and fully evaluate potential courses of action or solutions
  • Promote a culture of independent critical thinking

More on groupthink

For more research on the topic of groupthink, check out the works of Yale research psychologist Irving Janis, who studied the phenomenon for a majority of his decades’-long career.