Preventing Groupthink

The most important attribute of a high performing team – its cohesiveness – can also bring the team undone. A cohesive team needs to guard against the corruption of its decisions by the groupthink syndrome. The primary protection against this aberration is for team leaders to ensure that the team has a healthy diversity of thinking and that team members feel free to express their independent opinions.

The groupthink syndrome was identified in the 1970s by a psychologist, Irving Janis, who analysed US policy fiascos to demonstrate that when cohesive groups are making decisions there is a psychological drive for consensus that suppresses disagreement and prevents the investigation of alternatives. Janis showed that the syndrome is latent in all cohesive groups – government or otherwise.

The groupthink effect tends to corrupt a team’s decision making in two ways. First, it effectively bypasses the independent opinions of team members. Second, it discounts the relevance of information from outside the team. Successful teams, especially, are prone to groupthink, as success can generate a hubris that is intolerant to all outside opinion, and the team’s thinking becomes divorced from reality.

The first-line protection against groupthink is a team sufficiently diverse in thinking styles that criticism of ideas and constructive conflict is a normal part of team functioning.

Effective prevention is for the team to have formal rules of engagement for its critical decisions that include:

  1. The team leader being impartial.
  2. Subjecting all ideas to criticism – including those of team leader.
  3. Assigning the role of devil’s advocate to team members on rotation.
  4. Grounding team decisions in reality by inviting qualified colleagues or outside experts to challenge the team’s views.


If you would like to Create a Higher Performing Team, we offer a number of workshops that can help. Details can be found on our website: or you can simply drop me an email and I’ll touch base.

Have a great week.



Mark Rosenberg