The more I talk about corporate viruses, the more I keep encountering them (see previous blog for a longer discussion on the phenomenon of organizational viruses). The virus on my mind today is called “groupthink”, and most of us have encountered it more than once in our working careers.
It has been demonstrated again and again that any organization that aims to make good decisions needs to include variety of thought in its information gathering and decision-making. The virus called “groupthink” can get in the way of that, and it is often related to excessive homogeneity in the decision making team based on organizational and personal history, geography, racial and ethnicity preferences, gender bias, culture in general – a subtle or not-so-subtle exclusion process that amounts to “who we have available to us” or the more insidious “who we’re comfortable with.”
Groupthink is the need for the members of the group to stay socially cohesive by almost always agreeing with each other. It certainly makes life easier in the meetings, but tends to lead to poor results sooner or later. We have seen the very negative effects of such cronyism in both business and government in recent months and years. It is also antithetical to the innovation and creativity that most organizations need in these fast moving times.
For the latest evidence on this common phenomenon, consider this work by K. Phillips soon to be reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin as highlighted in the Boston Globe on January 4:
“Aren’t we great (and wrong)!
ONE OF THE most famous phenomena in social psychology is groupthink, the tendency of a group to converge on a consensus without much critical evaluation, even if the consensus is wrong. Various remedies have been proposed over the years, but some management researchers are presenting an interesting new angle on it. They invited a couple hundred members of fraternities and sororities to participate in a problem-solving experiment. The students were given 20 minutes to read a murder mystery and deduce the most likely perpetrator out of three suspects. Individually, only 44 percent of the students got it right, which is slightly better than chance. The students were then sorted into groups of three, all from the same fraternity or sorority, and were given 20 minutes to come to agreement on the most likely suspect. After a few minutes, a fourth member was added to the group – sometimes from the same fraternity or sorority, sometimes from a different one. If the new member came from a different fraternity or sorority, the group performed objectively better then the totally homogeneous groups (75 percent vs. 54 percent correct), and members with incorrect guesses were much more likely to change their minds. Nevertheless, the homogeneous groups perceived themselves as having more confidence, consensus, and effective interaction.”
Phillips, K. et al., “Is the Pain Worth the Gain? The Advantages and Liabilities of Agreeing With Socially Distinct Newcomers,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).