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The Perils of Groupthink

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Groupthink occurs within a group of people when the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in irrational or dysfunctional decision-making. Group members tend to prioritize consensus and unanimity over critical evaluation of alternatives or independent thinking. This usually leads to poor decisions because dissenting opinions or alternative viewpoints are suppressed or ignored in order to maintain group cohesion.


Characteristics of groupthink include:

  1. Illusion of Invulnerability: Group members develop a sense of overconfidence, believing their decisions are infallible which leads to risky choices.

  2. Collective Rationalization: Group members downplay or ignore warning signs and information that contradicts the group's preferred course of action.

  3. Belief in Inherent Morality: They view their decisions as morally superior, which causes them to less likely consider ethical concerns or the potential negative consequences of their choices.

  4. Stereotyping of Outsiders: Those with dissenting opinions may be labeled as outsiders and their viewpoints may be dismissed.

  5. Self-Censorship: Group members may withhold dissenting opinions or concerns to avoid conflict or to maintain group harmony.

  6. Illusion of Unanimity: Silence is often interpreted as agreement. This can create a false impression of unanimous support for a decision.

  7. Direct Pressure on Dissenters: Individuals expressing opposing views may face pressure to conform to the group's perspective which discourages open and honest discussion.

  8. Self-Appointed Mind Guards: Some group members may take on the role of protecting the group from dissenting viewpoints or information that might challenge the consensus.


Groupthink occurs in a variety of settings including business organizations, government agencies, and social groups. It leads to flawed decision-making and negative outcomes because a critical evaluation of alternatives and diverse perspectives are often essential for making informed and effective decisions. To avoid groupthink, it's important to encourage open and honest communication, foster an environment where dissenting opinions are valued which promotes critical thinking within the group.


When I was a team leader, to avoid groupthink, there were times that I served as a devil’s advocate to get the team to consider alternative solutions to an issue we were facing. During team discussions, I would present thoughts and solutions on the opposite side of an issue, even though I may have not agreed with the alternative(s). This got the team to overcome human bias and false reasoning, it would disrupt groupthink, reduce the risk of making a bad decision, and helped the team to achieve better outcomes.

Groupthink has negative consequences with wide-ranging impacts. Some adverse outcomes of groupthink include:


  1. Poor Decision-Making: Groupthink leads to suboptimal decisions. Dissenting viewpoints and critical evaluation of alternatives are suppressed or ignored.

  2. Lack of Innovation: When group members conform, innovative ideas and creative solutions are not considered. This stifles innovation and creativity.

  3. Overlooked Risks: Groupthink causes the group to downplay or ignore potential risks and warning signs associated with their decision. This leads to unforeseen problems and negative consequences.

  4. Ineffective Problem-Solving: In a situation where complex problems require thoughtful and analytical approaches, groupthink hinders the ability to effectively analyze and solve the problem.

  5. Ethical Lapses: Groupthink can lead to unethical behavior when the group collectively rationalizes morally questionable decisions. They believe that they are doing the right thing despite evidence to the contrary.

  6. Wasted Resources: Poor decisions because of groupthink can lead to the misallocation of resources, wasting time, money, and effort on strategies that are not well thought out.

  7. Decreased Morale: Individuals who disagree with the group's consensus are likely to become disengaged and/or demoralized which leads to reduced team productivity and reduced team cohesion.

  8. Reputation Damage: Public organizations and/or companies that make poor decisions because of groupthink can suffer reputational damage, eroding trust among its stakeholders.

  9. Missed Opportunities: Groupthink can cause the group to miss out on valuable opportunities by failing to adapt to changing circumstances simply because they are stuck in a rigid mindset.

  10. Escalation of Commitment: When a group has made a bad decision due to groupthink, they may become even more committed to that decision over time which leads to a worsening of the situation.


Group has serious negative consequences in a variety of organizations. By recognizing the signs of groupthink and taking steps to promote open and honest discussions, a diversity of perspectives, and critical thinking, you can mitigate its harmful effects, leading to more informed and effective decision-making.


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