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Group Conflict and the Risk of Groupthink

  • Posted by: asadmin

September is full of transtions. For some back to school and for others back to work or perhaps a new job.

If you work on or with teams you’ll find helpful information in this month’s newsletter about group conflict and group think.

Alternative Resolutions, LLC helps teams and organizations handle group conflict so that it can be an engine for productive growth.

When conflicts arise in a group it is important for members to fully understand the concerns of their colleagues and to openly, thoughtfully and critically analyze and address these concerns. When concerns are overlooked or group members are afraid to raise differing viewpoints this is a danger sign for team effectiveness. Fear of dissent is a characteristic of a phenomenon called Groupthink.

Teams have certain common characteristics. One such characteristic is group cohesion. In cohesive groups, members recognize their interdependence and are motivated to solve conflicts collaboratively for the betterment of the whole. Teams with a high degree of group cohesion have a greater sense of purpose, unity and pride in their accomplishments. They feel a strong sense of acceptance by their peers. Because of the positive climate in such groups there tends to be more freedom to express differing views as well as to tackle challenges, including conflict.


But too much cohesion can be detrimental. The danger of strong cohesion is that alternative points of view can be quashed and unpopular opinions may not be expressed. This pressure impacts individual members’ critical thinking ability and consequently there is a strong drive to concur with the group. This leads to “groupthink”, a phenomenon and term coined by behavioral scientist Irving Janis (Janis, Irving L. “Groupthink” Psychology Today, November 1971, 43. Print). With groupthink the pressure to agree is so great that differing opinions are never expressed. Some common public policy fiascos that were attributable in part to groupthink were the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Watergate burglary and cover-up.

Janis studied high level government decision-makers, and found eight symptoms of group think:

Invulnerability– a willingness to take risks, usually due to overconfidence
Rationalization-making excuses and discounting warnings
Morality-failure to recognize ethical and moral consequences
Stereotyping outsiders– perceived as too weak and ill-informed to understand
Self-Censorship– group members doubt their own reservations and won’t dissent
Pressure on dissent– strong pressure to agree and suppress dissent
Illusion of unanimity– strong belief that everyone is in agreement
Mindguarding– attempts to shield group members from adverse information
So look at your team and see if any of these symptoms are present. Are diverse viewpoints not just tolerated but welcomed? Is there pressure to join the crowd? Are all parameters of decisions explored?

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Author: asadmin

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