Groupthink - Group Norms and Behaviour

Topics: Irving Janis, Decision making, Bay of Pigs Invasion Pages: 9 (2715 words) Published: November 1, 2008

Good Morning! Imagine that an Australian university student invites an international university student to a barbeque. The international student comes from a country whose culture is very different to Australia’s. Unsure of themselves, the international student asks what they should wear and what they should bring to the barbeque. In response the Australian who invited them says ‘Wear what you want, and bring something to drink, and some meat, it’s a barbeque, it’s very laid back’. So the student dresses in a kilt (no underpants), brings a bottle of whisky, and a freshly skinned cow haunch. The Australians are surprised and can’t understand why the Scottish student has dressed like he has and brought what he did. An understanding by both parties of group norms would have enabled them to understand how mistakes were made and maybe how to fix them, possibly by enabling the Australians to including new behaviours into their group.

We are discussing the concept of group norms in Daniel, C. Feldman’s article ‘The Development and Enforcement of Group Norms’. We will tie this in with Irving Janis’ concept of groupthink, which is arguably caused by the development and enforcement of group norms. Daniel Feldman (1984, p.47) states that ‘group norms are the informal rules that groups adopt to regulate and regularise group members’ behaviour’ (Hackman, 1976 in Feldman 1984 p.47). When this happens it is possible and sometimes likely that bad or irrational decisions will be made. This is Janis’ groupthink, ‘a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action’ (Janis 1977 p.?). This is like peer group pressure stopping people in a group from arguing that drinking too much the night before an exam is a bad idea or that arriving drunk to a lecture will not be funny.

Feldman’s paper is an analysis of two important aspects of group norms: why they are enforced and how they develop. Feldman felt there had not been enough focus on these because most of what was known about group norms came from analysis of their effect on objective outcomes (Feldman 1984, p.47). Feldman wanted to know why group norms existed in one group but sometimes not in another. He thought this was important to understand because group norms can play a large role in determining whether a group will be productive or not (Feldman 1984 p.47), and also because managers who understand group norms could play a major role in setting and changing group norms

It is our intent to show that Feldman’s concepts of group norms create an environment where Janis’ groupthink becomes possible, examples of this being the collapse of ENRON Corporation and the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

It is important to remember. In an environment where a manager has an understanding of the dangers of group norms and groupthink, they have better control over a group’s behaviour and can ensure errors of judgement are much less likely to occur.

Why are Group Norms Enforced

Feldman (1984, p.47) states that ‘group norms are usually informal and are infrequently written down or discussed’, also he agrees with M. Shaw’s (1981) suggestion that ‘a group does not establish or enforce norms about every conceivable situation’. So why are group norms such a significant part of a workforce or a group of people? It is because there is a frequent distinction between maintaining the tasks a group is set and maintaining a group socially (Feldman, 1984, p.47), for example, tasks require objective dialogue between group members but pre-existing gender roles may cause undue pressure on men or women within a group to produce stereotyped responses. This means that ‘norms are formed and enforced only with respect to behaviours that have some significance for the group’ (Feldman, 1984, p.47).

Feldman (1984,...

Bibliography: House, R., Watt, A. & Williams, J. (2004) ‘Teaching Enron: The Rhetoric and Ethics of Whistle blowing’. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, v47 (4):244-255.
Janis, I. L. (1972) ‘Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign Policy Decisions and Fiascos’. Houghton Mifflin Company. U.S.A.
Janis, I.L. & Mann, L. (1977) ‘Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and Commitment’. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York.
Sarra, J. (2002) ‘Rose Colored Glasses, Opaque Financial Reporting and Investor Blues: Enron as Con and the Vulnerability of Canadian Corporate Law’. 76 St. John’s L. Rev. 715 723.
Stoeva, P. (2004) ‘Norm Development – The Case of the Convention against Torture’. 5th Pan-European International Relations Coference “Constructing World Orders. Netherlands.
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