You might have first heard about doublethink in your high school English class – George Orwell’s 1984 description for holding two contradicting beliefs at once.
In response to the dystopian classic, sociologist William H. Whyte wrote an article coining groupthink: a ‘rationalized conformity’.
Groupthink occurs when we strive to reach consensus and maintain cohesion within a group decision-making context, according to its most influential researcher, Irving Janis. We might ignore alternative plans of action, forget our critical thinking skills, or give in to the majority opinion – either voluntarily or from peer pressure.
But while a favorite to apply to political case studies, groupthink is pervasive in our everyday lives. You might strategically agree with a colleague as the fastest route out of an overdrawn conversation, or endorse your superior's hare-brained scheme because everyone else seems on board.
What are the dynamics that lead to groupthink, and how can we avoid them? Today we’re looking at the day-to-day intricacies of one of the most popular psychological phenomena of the 20th century.
Until next time, Sarah and the suspiciously in-sync team @ TDL
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Today’s topics 👀
🧠 DEEP DIVE: The Biases Behind Groupthink
🫀 FIELD NOTES: Putting the ‘Organ’ in Organizational Governance
💪 VIEWPOINTS: How to Foster Critcal Decision-Making
The Biases Behind Groupthink
+ The tempting status quo.Researchers have found that abiding by the status quo can take us a step closer to groupthink behaviors. Why? It’s easier than coming to a new solution, and doesn’t feel like our fault if we fail.
+ Mindguarding. One of Irving Janis’ original symptoms of groupthink was mindguards: members who ‘protect’ the group from contradictory information. While it may sound malicious and Orwellian, mindguarding can be as innocent as succumbing to confirmation bias when retrieving information.
+ We love what we know. We like ideas that feel like our own. We like plans that mimic previous plans. The mere exposure effect explains our affinity for the familiar: it allows us to reduce uncertainty and quicken our processing. But it also leads us to miss out on new – and maybe even better – plans of actions.
+ The complexity of conformity. While the word may evoke images of sheep blindly stumbling after one another, conformity isn’t a mindless phenomenon. We might believe others are more knowledgable than us (information conformity) or feel subtly pressured to give in to expectations in exchange for acceptance (normative conformity).
Putting the ‘organ’ in organizational governance
While every organization stands to benefit from a culture of open debate, that’s not all it takes to optimize organizational decisions. Decision-making processes need strong systems to facilitate discussion and push ideas from conception to action.
That’s what we supported for Health Canada’s Organ Donation and Transplantation Collaborative – a multi-stakeholder collaboration with no time to waste. At any time, there are over 4000 Canadians waiting to receive an organ transplant and over 250 die waiting each year.
We collaborated with the group’s Steering Committee to develop a governance framework, using both quantitative and qualitative methods to align their many stakeholders.
If you want to learn more about our work on organizational governance, ensuring more effective organ donation across the country, check out our case study here.
💪 How to Foster Critcal Decision-Making
+ Cultivate safety. Psychological safety exists when employees know they can speak up without any backlash. Without it, open discussion is off the table. In her op-ed, behavioral scientist Dr. Newman explains what it is, why it’s important, and how you can cultivate it in your own circles.
+ Get anonymous. Instead of assuming an open culture, give group members the chance to identify problems or propose solutions without attaching their names. If input needs to be prioritized, try hosting a qualitative dotmocracy exercise – just like we did for our Health Canada project featured above.
+ Make room for a devil. One of Janis’ original suggestions includes assigning a devil’s advocate, whose assigned job is to poke holes in winning suggestions. How to do it best? Be courageous, challenge ideas instead of people, and stick to an agenda.
We’re more likely to hire people who look like us, talk like us, or have the same interests as us. It’s easy to trust someone who loves Excel hacks, sweater vests, and a Sunday roast as much as we do. But it’s easy to fall victim to groupthink when everyone at the table is just like us.
This is the similar-to-me effect at work. It impacts who we trust, who we hire, and who gets glowing reviews from colleagues. It explains why hiring processes are moving towards blind reviews – and why famous negotiator Chris Voss recommends mirroring your conversation partners.
What’s new at TDL?
In the first of her Behavioral Myth-Busting series, our Associate Project Leader Cynthia explains the differences between the behavioral science terms that we love to mistakenly group together.
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