Groupthink and Organizational Conflict

Have you been part of a discussion group and everybody seems to be in agreement with every point or suggestion? What about at your work place; have you ever experienced a situation where management decisions are rarely challenged, for the most part, because the unwritten code is that “this is how we do things here.”

The above describes groupthink.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Groupthink as a “pattern characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.” It is common knowledge that a group provides a sense of belonging and, to an extent, perceived protection to its members. It is also conceivable that a group promotes a sense of identity and allegiance. Members are therefore bound to strictly adhere to the established norms, values and views.

Granted the above, members of a group are expected to rally around the ideas and vision promoted by its leader. Groupthink is characterized by a sense of invulnerability. To this end, members are expected to swim or sink with every proposal, even when such an idea does not make sense.

Swissair was once a reputable global airline. It was a solvent company with potential for bigger things. However, the company began to believe it was invulnerable and as a result of failing to question poor decisions and gross mismanagement, the airline eventually went bankrupt

What happens to members who break norms or depart from group values and beliefs?

Members of a group who stray are likely to be ostracized by others for being ‘sell outs.’ Any organization where employees pool together in groups stands to lose the individual creativity of members, and this may lead to disastrous and unintended consequences.

Social psychologist Irving Janis describes groupthink as a “dangerous psychological process.” Janis further postulates that members’ desire for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. This demonstrates group members are more concerned with their ‘image’ as viewed by their colleagues than what benefits their organization.

Not all cohesive groups suffer from groupthink. Where a group has well demarcated roles complimented by standard procedures, it is easy to reign in the effects of group think as individual decisions are easy to trace and review.

Conflict has been defined elsewhere on this blog as the incompatibility of goals or interests. When the interests of an organization are in divergence with those of an internal group, it is safe to argue this creates organizational conflict.

The conflict noted above could work to the advantage of group members. For example, to push for better terms, a group may decide to picket. If the management gives in to the interests of the group, then all the members in the group benefit from standing together.

Finding the right balance between the positive and negative effects of groupthink helps avert organization conflict.


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