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 an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.
Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences. Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the “in-group” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “in-group” significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the “out-group”). Furthermore groupthink can produce dehumanizing actions against the “out-group”.
The recent Korean Air crisis known as “nut-rage” where top airline officials were forced to lie represents groupthink where the “in-group” forced employees to lie about the true events to the government investigators.
In Singapore, the tendency of well-run companies and the government to stick to the “One Right View” approach so as to avoid confusion amongst customers and the public has become highly disciplined as the “One Right Formula” in a world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (commonly referred to as “VUCA”).
In a VUCA world, everything is changing overnight. For example, look at the global taxi industry. Once thought to be unassailable, this protected industry is facing vigorous competition enabled by always on-line mobile devices powered by Uber and others. Neither taxi companies nor their powerful licensing commissions could control the overnight ubiquity of these technologies, yet they are now forced to evolve within those very constraints. The “in-group” of the Land Transport Authority recently launched their own app which is the result of the technological shifts in a VUCA world.
The groupthink is not spawned by leaders dismissing diverse views, but by failing to create a culture where agents are forward-looking, unbiased, challenging assumptions and learning from mistakes. Both are dangerous — and potentially deadly — symptoms of groupthink.
That’s groupthink at work. It’s a common bias that afflicts teams, whereby individuals tend to conform to a prevailing view, even if they don’t agree with it. Team members are afraid to challenge authority and opt to stay in a “safe” zone that’s dominated by one or two strong opinion leaders.
It’s clear the we new brand of leadership — one that’s strategic, open-minded, forward-looking and focused on creating a culture of learning from previous failures versus sweeping them under the rug, hoping they will go away.