Groupthink – Are you a herder or a swarmer?

Dec. 21, 2015

The Challenger space shuttle disaster, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the collapse of Swissair, have all been attributed to the phenomenon of Groupthink.

Challenger Disaster

Challenger Disaster

These are high profile examples of groups of people not recognising the true situation they were in and making decisions that seem obviously terrible with the benefit of hindsight.

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in irrational decision-making. The term was coined by social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972 and is said to lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.

Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanise other groups. A group is said to be especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is removed from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision-making.

While we may not all be making decisions that can lead to failures at the level of the famous examples above, the principle of groupthink is the same regardless of the decision being made. When I talk to people about their workplace, they often talk about teams at all levels of management suffering from the same problem.

You can liken groupthink to herding behaviour, where people aren’t thinking – the development of a culture where they just accept what they are told without question.

General George S. Patton

General George S. Patton

If teams do not have processes in place to analyse and fully explore problems, ideas, questions and options, the likelihood is that their default mechanism for making decisions will be unstructured meetings, incurring issues like groupthink and bias.

Meetings can unfortunately be easily biased by individuals, who through strength of personality can dominate proceedings and impose their ideas on the rest of the group, a situation that I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with. This is why meetings and decision-making processes need some carefully designed structure to them, to remove bias, groupthink, and to increase efficiency.

Enswarm software is designed to remove bias when analysing a question or deciding on the correct course of action. We have included a level of anonymity that ensures no-one can be influenced one way or another during the decision-making process. This allows everyone to present their true feelings towards the issue at hand.


Enswarm

Enswarm

Our platform offers simple interfaces to ensure that everyone can use the software and get heard. We have developed simple “handrail” processes, that add the following:

  • Individual motivation to achieve group success – If everyone has the chance to get heard within the group and beyond, there is a greater desire to succeed as a group.
  • Group intelligence principles to make decisions – Based less upon emotional reactions and more upon knowledge and understanding, group intelligence principles remove groupthink from the decision-making process.
  • Increased diversity to problem solving – When everyone in the group gets heard and their point of view matters, you will discover a far greater scope of opinions.
  • Elements of anonymity in specific situations to remove biases – Another element of groupthink, individuals can be intimidated in a group situation, and afraid to voice their opinion. We have carefully built in elements of anonymity to remove this problem.

These processes are inspired by swarms of honey bees and their desire to succeed as a collective, hence our name.

We have done the hard work to help your teams improve and no matter your place within a team our platform can work for you. As a leader, with the last word on decisions, you remain in control, but at the same time receive the best input from your team. And as a team member you are offered the opportunity to get yourself heard in the collective.

So next time you experience groupthink within your organisation, replace that herding behaviour with swarming and witness the incredible effect it can have on your decision-making, efficiency, and productivity.