When teams become close, they solve problems as a group. Whilst this is a valuable approach, allowing you to get opinions and options from others, there are some specific dangers involved in a group approach. One factor that comes into play in a group process is called the "Risky Shift". When you assemble a group of people for information and advice, the group's decision tends to be riskier than the real attitudes and feelings of it's members. People take chances, feel stronger, in a group, and decisions tend to be more extreme, as no individual sees themself as personally accountable for the decision made.

A second factor has been called "Groupthink". Members of a group are reluctant to voice criticism, whereas they would if they were not part of a group. People will wait to hear what leaders or managers say and then fall in line. They don't want to be different or thought of as troublemakers. This can lead to very bad decisions being made. The traditional example of a groupthink decision is the Bay of Pigs decision made by the JFK government.

There are a number of features of 'groupthink' :

  • The illusion of invulnerability. The fact that this decision was made by all these people suggests that it carries their collective weight and strength. There is strength in numbers and the group feels invincible.
  • The illusion of morality. There is something about a group that lends morality to whatever decision it makes. It's as if the decision has been vetted by each person in the room and this must be irrefutable.
  • Outsiders who oppose the group or its decisions tend to be stereotyped as weak, stupid or worse.
  • In the excitement, those who are quiet or opposed to the position are overlooked. As the majority opinion begins to take shape, the group assumes it is supported by everyone and an illusion of unanimity is formed.
  • A reason is put forward in favour of the decision, which often turns into a thoughtless parroting of the party line, enabling group members to ignore any evidence or arguments to the contrary.
  • Pressure is put on any dissenters to abandon their criticism and conform.
  • Blindguards are set up. Certain members try to silence dissenters and protect the leader from adverse information.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent these problems. First, assign someone the role of devil's advocate. They prepare the strongest argument possible against the majority or leader's position before a decision is made. This of course helps to insure that all the relevant factors are really considered. Also, the leader or manager should not present their opinion first, in order to prevent others from simply conforming or being "yes men". They should wait until they've heard from all or most of the group members.

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