aAttitudes and behaviours in a group - Change Management

Irving Janis looked at significant decisions made by people in authority which turned out to be disastrous. He established that a phenomenon he defined as ‘groupthink’ occurs in certain situations and when certain criteria are met. He defines groupthink as ‘a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action’ (Janis, 1972).

In hindsight decisions such as the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster and the Challenger space shuttle disaster were seen to suffer from the type of decision making that Janis highlighted.
More recently the fruitless search for illusionary weapons of mass destruction, the subsequent invasion of Iraq, and the consequent failure to predictand prepare for the ongoing insurgency has been blamed on groupthink.

Janis (1972) described some of the attitudes and behaviours in a group suffering from groupthink:

  • an illusion of invulnerability, shared by most or all the members, which creates excessive optimism and encourages taking extreme risks;
  • collective efforts to rationalize in order to discount warnings that might lead the members to reconsider their assumptions before they recommit themselves to their past policy decisions;
  • an unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, inclining the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions;
  • stereo typed views of enemy leaders as too evil to warrant genuine attempts to negotiate, or as too weak and stupid to counter whatever risky attempts are made to defeat their purposes;
  • direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s stereo types, illusions, or commitments, making clear that this type of dissent is contrary to what is expected of all loya members;
  • self-censorship of deviations from the apparent group consensus, reflecting each member’s inclination to minimize the importance of his or her doubts and counter arguments;
  • a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgements conforming to the majority view (partly resulting from self-censorship of deviations, augmented by the false assumption that silence means consent);
  • the emergence of self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – members who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.

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