Welcome to the Vital Integrities Blog

Cohesiveness and Groupthink

"Insanity in individuals is something rare; but in groups...it is the rule." Friedrich Nietzsche

According to the American Management Association, 60 percent of executives report that getting people to work together is the biggest hurdle they currently face. Indeed, establishing successful workgroups has long been a leadership objective. But instead of concentrating on how to get people to work together, perhaps we need to consider if employees should work in groups at all.

When people talk about teamwork, they often mention the positive-sounding term "group cohesion." Researcher Albert V. Carron explained the concept of cohesion as a sense of closeness and bonding among group members. Cohesion can lead to higher individual effort, more personal job satisfaction, less turnover, and greater adherence to group norms. However, cohesion can also have negative effects on group performance.

For example, research psychologist Irving Janis determined that highly cohesive groups are susceptible to groupthink, which he defined as the propensity for people to seek unanimous agreement even when overwhelming evidence points to a different conclusion. Groupthink causes collective rationalization -- the tendency to explain away, or ignore altogether, contrary ideas. It puts pressure on members to conform, thereby stifling and restricting individual identity. Groupthink stops members from suggesting ideas that might deviate from the collective opinion, causing a deceptive appearance of group consensus. And it gives the group a potentially disastrous sense of invulnerability. Janis blamed groupthink for several political fiascos, including the failure to anticipate the Pearl Harbor attack, the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and the unsuccessful hostage rescue in Iran.

Janis identified some preventions of groupthink. He suggested that leaders encourage each group member to freely air objections and doubts, invite outside experts to offer opinions, and refrain from expressing their own opinions when assigning tasks to groups. And he proposed that group members take turns playing the role of devil's advocate at meetings.

The lesson here is that getting people to work in groups is difficult. Because of the human dynamics involved, two or more heads are not always better than one. A future post will discuss how to decide which tasks are appropriate for groups.

Maybe there's a good reason that artists, scientists, and inventors prefer working alone. What do you think?

Labels: , ,

Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment
Vital Integrities Blog - Blogged