The PR BlogPublic RelationsInternal CommunicationsThe Pitfalls of Groupthink: Decision-Making in Organisations

The Pitfalls of Groupthink: Decision-Making in Organisations

Allow diverse thinkers to collaborate—and make mistakes.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Groupthink is a chal­lenge for intern­al communications.

Groupthink is a psy­cho­lo­gic­al phe­nomen­on where the desire for har­mony and con­form­ity with­in a group leads to irra­tion­al or dys­func­tion­al decision-mak­ing outcomes. 

The phe­nomen­on occurs when group mem­bers sup­press dis­sent­ing view­points, pri­or­it­ise con­sensus over crit­ic­al eval­u­ation, and are influ­enced by the group’s over­rid­ing desire to main­tain a cohes­ive social identity.

Here we go:

Groupthink and Poor Decision-Making

Groupthink is a concept in organ­isa­tion­al beha­viour. It sug­gests that when a group’s cohes­ive­ness is overly depend­ent on the per­son­al appeal of its mem­bers, it is more likely to lead to poor decision-making. 

This is because such a basis for cohe­sion can over­shad­ow ration­al, crit­ic­al think­ing, and lead to con­sensus-seek­ing at the cost of con­sid­er­ing diverse view­points or altern­at­ive solutions. 

Groupthink the­ory sug­gests poor decision-mak­ing is most likely when group cohe­sion is based on per­son­al attract­ive­ness of mem­bers, but broad­er and con­sist­ent use of group dynam­ics research can advance under­stand­ing of decision-mak­ing prob­lems.”
Source: Organisational beha­vi­or and human decision pro­cesses 1McCauley, C. (1998). Group Dynamics in Janis’s Theory of Groupthink: Backward and Forward. Organisational beha­vi­or and human decision pro­cesses, 73 23, … Continue read­ing

Effective intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tion strategies can intro­duce struc­tured meth­ods for decision-mak­ing, such as soli­cit­ing anonym­ous feed­back, encour­aging debate, and ensur­ing the rep­res­ent­a­tion of diverse per­spect­ives in meet­ings and discussions. 

In essence, by fos­ter­ing a cul­ture of open com­mu­nic­a­tion and crit­ic­al eval­u­ation, intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tions enable organ­isa­tions to make well-con­sidered, innov­at­ive, and effect­ive decisions.

Groupthink and Internal Communications

Internal com­mu­nic­a­tions shape an organisation’s cul­ture, foster open dia­logue, and ensure diverse view­points are heard and considered. 

When group­think pre­vails, it leads to a uni­form­ity of thought that stifles cre­ativ­ity and innovation. 

This phe­nomen­on is haz­ard­ous in a cor­por­ate set­ting where crit­ic­al decisions must bal­ance vari­ous per­spect­ives and risks. 

The tend­ency to con­form to the major­ity view or the opin­ion of cha­ris­mat­ic lead­ers, often driv­en by a desire to main­tain har­mony or cohe­sion with­in the team, can res­ult in over­look­ing poten­tial prob­lems, fail­ing to explore altern­at­ive strategies, and mak­ing sub­op­tim­al decisions. 

By pro­mot­ing a cul­ture of open­ness and psy­cho­lo­gic­al safety, where employ­ees feel com­fort­able express­ing their views without fear of retri­bu­tion, intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tions can help pre­vent the insu­lar think­ing that leads to groupthink. 

Therefore, intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tions must act­ively cul­tiv­ate an envir­on­ment where dis­sent­ing opin­ions are val­ued and crit­ic­al think­ing is encour­aged, thereby mit­ig­at­ing the risks asso­ci­ated with groupthink.

Why Groups Are Sensitive To Pressure

Groups are par­tic­u­larly sus­cept­ible to pres­sure due to the inher­ent desire to main­tain a pos­it­ive social iden­tity with­in the group. This desire often leads to group­think, where the group’s col­lect­ive effort to pre­serve its cohe­sion and avoid dis­ap­prov­al can res­ult in poor decision-making. 

Groupthink is a col­lect­ive effort to main­tain social iden­tity, with groups mak­ing poor decisions when faced with poten­tial neg­at­ive views, but pro­du­cing high­er qual­ity decisions when giv­en an excuse for poor per­form­ance.”
Source: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2Turner, M., Pratkanis, A., Probasco, P., & Leve, C. (1992). Threat, Cohesion, and Group Effectiveness: Testing a Social Identity Maintenance Perspective on Groupthink. Journal of Personality … Continue read­ing

This is espe­cially true when the group per­ceives a threat of neg­at­ive views from extern­al sources. In such scen­ari­os, the pres­sure to con­form and main­tain a uni­fied front can over­ride indi­vidu­al judg­ment and crit­ic­al think­ing, lead­ing to decisions pri­or­it­ising group har­mony over the qual­ity of the outcome. 

Interestingly, groups can pro­duce high­er-qual­ity decisions when they have an excuse for poten­tially poor per­form­ance. This implies that when the pres­sure of main­tain­ing a flaw­less image alle­vi­ates, group mem­bers feel more lib­er­ated to express diverse opin­ions and engage in crit­ic­al and cre­at­ive thinking. 

Avoiding Groupthink in Organisations

For intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tions, there are mainly two crit­ic­al suc­cess factors for min­im­ising group­think in organisations:

  • Psychological group diversity. Diversity is often linked to demo­graph­ic­al attrib­utes (sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion, eth­ni­city, gender, etc.). But in terms of pro­duct­ive and effi­cient groups, diversity should rather be psy­cho­lo­gic­al in nature (oppos­ing views, crit­ic­al think­ing, cre­at­ive ideas, etc.).
  • High tol­er­ance for pro­duct­ive mis­takes. Negative pres­sure will likely induce poor decision-mak­ing in the group. Instead, encour­age a cul­ture of pro­duct­ive mis­takes and focus on pro­mot­ing error cor­rec­tion (“Fail fast, fail often”).

Checklist for Communicative Leadership

The single biggest prob­lem in com­mu­nic­a­tion is the illu­sion that it has taken place.”
— George Bernard Shaw

Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

The Checklist for Communicative Leadership

How can you ensure your lead­er­ship is express­ive and pre­cise in prac­tic­al situations? 

As a rule of thumb:

  • It’s gen­er­ally bet­ter to “over-com­mu­nic­ate” (tol­er­able extra effort) than “under-com­mu­nic­ate” (sub­stan­tial extra risk).

Make sure to pass these com­mu­nic­at­ive lead­er­ship checks:

  • This is what we are doing.
    Is the explan­a­tion clear? Do you have ques­tions? Can you repeat the inform­a­tion back to me?
  • This is why we are doing it.
    Is the explan­a­tion clear? Do you have ques­tions? Can you repeat the inform­a­tion back to me?
  • This is who will be doing it.
    Is the explan­a­tion clear? Do you have ques­tions? Can you repeat the inform­a­tion back to me?
  • This is how we are doing it.
    Is the explan­a­tion clear? Do you have ques­tions? Can you repeat the inform­a­tion back to me?
  • This is when we are doing it.
    Is the explan­a­tion clear? Do you have ques­tions? Can you repeat the inform­a­tion back to me?
  • This is where we are doing it.
    Is the explan­a­tion clear? Do you have ques­tions? Can you repeat the inform­a­tion back to me?
  • This is for whom we are doing it.
    Is the explan­a­tion clear? Do you have ques­tions? Can you repeat the inform­a­tion back to me?

Being a great lead­er can be a daunt­ing task. However, with effort (and atten­tion to detail), all lead­ers can prac­tice express­ive and pre­cise communication.

Expressive and pre­cise com­mu­nic­a­tion styles have a stronger link to lead­er out­comes than per­son­al­ity traits extra­ver­sion and con­scien­tious­ness.”
Source: Human Performance 3Bakker-Pieper, A., & Vries, R. (2013). The Incremental Validity of Communication Styles Over Personality Traits for Leader Outcomes. Human Performance, 26, 1 – … Continue read­ing

Learn more: The Checklist for Communicative Leadership

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Please sup­port my PR blog by shar­ing it with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: More Psychology

PR Resource: The 3 x 3 Intranet Model

The 3 Pillars of an Intranet - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog.
The 3 pil­lars of an intranet.
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

The 3‑by‑3 Intranet Model

The 3 Intranet Pillars

When eval­u­at­ing or set­ting up an intranet, it’s cru­cial to focus on its core functionalities: 

  • Messaging. Messaging is the core com­mu­nic­a­tion func­tion of an intranet, encom­passing all forms of digit­al mes­saging, includ­ing emails, instant mes­saging, and chat rooms. It’s the primary tool for day-to-day com­mu­nic­a­tion with­in the organisation.
  • Meeting. This aspect of the intranet involves schedul­ing, man­aging, and facil­it­at­ing meet­ings with­in the organ­isa­tion. It includes cal­en­dar man­age­ment, video con­fer­en­cing tools, and resources for vir­tu­al collaboration.
  • Filing. Filing refers to stor­ing, organ­ising, and retriev­ing doc­u­ments and oth­er digit­al assets on the intranet. This includes doc­u­ment man­age­ment sys­tems, digit­al lib­rar­ies, and databases

This tri­ad forms the back­bone of any effect­ive intranet, cater­ing to the most fun­da­ment­al needs of an organ­iz­a­tion. Each of these com­pon­ents plays a vital role in the func­tion­al­ity and effect­ive­ness of an intranet. When well-executed, they work togeth­er seam­lessly to sup­port the organ­isa­tion’s com­mu­nic­a­tion, col­lab­or­a­tion, and inform­a­tion man­age­ment needs.

The Three Dimensions of an Intranet - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog.
The 3 dimen­sions of an intranet.

The 3 Intranet Dimensions

In the con­text of an intranet, com­mu­nic­a­tion typ­ic­ally occurs in three primary dimen­sions: top-down, bot­tom-up, and horizontal. 

  • Top-down. This dimen­sion refers to the flow of inform­a­tion from the high­er levels of the organ­isa­tion’s hier­archy to the lower levels. It typ­ic­ally includes offi­cial announce­ments, policy changes, organ­isa­tion­al updates, and stra­tegic directions.
  • Bottom-up. This is the upward flow of inform­a­tion from lower-level employ­ees to the man­age­ment and lead­er­ship teams. It encom­passes feed­back, sug­ges­tions, con­cerns, and insights from the staff.
  • Horizontal. This type of com­mu­nic­a­tion occurs among employ­ees at the same level with­in the organ­isa­tion­al hier­archy. It involves exchan­ging inform­a­tion, col­lab­or­at­ing, and shar­ing know­ledge among peers.

By effect­ively lever­aging these three dimen­sions of com­mu­nic­a­tion, an intranet can become a power­ful tool for enhan­cing trans­par­ency, col­lab­or­a­tion, and over­all organ­isa­tion­al effi­ciency. Each dimen­sion com­ple­ments the oth­ers, cre­at­ing a com­pre­hens­ive com­mu­nic­a­tion eco­sys­tem that bene­fits the entire organisation.

Learn more: The Intranet: The Unsung Hero Amongst PR Channels

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 McCauley, C. (1998). Group Dynamics in Janis’s Theory of Groupthink: Backward and Forward. Organisational beha­vi­or and human decision pro­cesses, 73 23, 142 – 62. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​6​/​O​B​H​D​.​1​9​9​8​.​2​759
2 Turner, M., Pratkanis, A., Probasco, P., & Leve, C. (1992). Threat, Cohesion, and Group Effectiveness: Testing a Social Identity Maintenance Perspective on Groupthink. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 781 – 796. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​7​/​0​022 – 3514.63.5.781
3 Bakker-Pieper, A., & Vries, R. (2013). The Incremental Validity of Communication Styles Over Personality Traits for Leader Outcomes. Human Performance, 26, 1 – 19. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​8​0​/​0​8​9​5​9​2​8​5​.​2​0​1​2​.​7​3​6​900
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

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