Groupthink: Problem Solving and Groups

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  • Topic: Problem solving, Irving Janis, Abelian group
  • Pages : 5 (1737 words )
  • Download(s) : 471
  • Published : April 9, 2007
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The Challenger space shuttle explosion. The Bay of Pigs invasion. The Korean War debacle (Janis 1-28). These are examples of situations where group communication failed. Group communication involves a shared identity among three or more people, a considerable amount of interaction among these people, and a high level of interdependence between everyone involved (Trenholm 196-97). It is essential to understand group dynamics for a variety of reasons. Everyone participates in groups throughout the course of a lifetime, and these groups are often very goal-oriented. The business community, non-profit organizations, and town governments all use groups to make decisions. Sometimes a condition known as Groupthink can occur in groups that are extremely task-oriented and goal-driven. Groupthink is as "a mode of thinking people engage in when cohesiveness is high" (Blumberg and Golembiewski 134). Groupthink leads to poor decision making and results in a lack of creativity. Although Groupthink has been studied extensively, many people are unaware of its dynamics and the consequences that they might induce. This paper was designed to raise awareness about Groupthink and to provide some suggestions that can help task-oriented groups avoid this condition. To understand Groupthink it is essential to have a basic familiarity with group communication dynamics. Once this is accomplished some symptoms of Groupthink will be explored and some solutions will be offered. Lots of work has been done on the subject of Groupthink, but the most authoritative documentation on the subject can be discovered in the works of the founder of the concept, Irving Janis. Janis, in his book Groupthink, defines the terms involved and presents examples. Beyond Groupthink is a text written by Eric Stern et al. that deals with Groupthink in small groups. The authors believe that a certain amount of Groupthink can be beneficial in small groups. Articles involving Groupthink have also appeared in the Wall Street Journal and various other publications. Goal-oriented groups consist of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, have specific performance goals, share a common working approach, and hold mutual accountability (Wertheim 2). These types of groups are used when there are complex problems to be solved, important situations to work through, or uncertain conditions. Groups function best when there are no immediate time pressures (Wertheim 2). Groups are successful because the group members bring diverse ideas, the collective knowledge of everyone is significant, and groups tend to be focused (Wertheim 2). There are certain situations which call for the use of groups. Groups can be beneficial when communication between departments is necessary in a business setting or when the consent of many people is required (Wertheim 3). Individuals can also benefit from group participation. Many people who work in groups are able to learn new skills, take risks, get feedback, and discover personal strengths and weaknesses (Wertheim 3). Groups must accomplish tasks that individuals cannot. This is the primary function of groups. Effective groups consist of committed members who are willing to take accountability for the actions of the group (Wertheim 3-4). At Northeastern University an academic program has been developed to facilitate group communication. The University believes that effective groups are characterized by a sense of urgency and direction, a following of a set of rules, understanding of what the problem or issue is that needs to be solved, a shared sense of leadership, an ability to brainstorm, and a cohesive climate (Wertheim 4). Effective groups need to have clear goals, mutual trust among all participants, accountability shared by everyone, external support, and training (Wertheim 4-5). Irving Janis did lots of work in the area of group communication. He wondered why intelligent groups of people sometimes made...
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