Groupthink: time and leadership style

Groupthink is was first introduced by Janis in 1972. It is defined as mode of thinking that people engage in when are deeply involved in a cohesive group and when striving for unity override members’ motivation to realistically apprise alternative courses of action.

Janis (1972) recommends to avoid Groupthink including (1) outside experts, (2) playing devil’s advocates, (3) critically appraising all alternative courses of actions and a (4) leadership style that does not express outside solution.

Space shuttle challenger

Groupthink is present in space shuttle Challenger case. One of the worst space disasters was led by flawed decision making process and decision made a night before the launch. In 1986, Kennedy Space Centre experienced the Challenger explosion killing seven astronauts. 73 seconds after the launch, space shuttle crashed. Launch temperature was well brow the previous temperature at which the shuttle engines had been tested and this resulted in an explosion.

Time and leadership style

Time influence

The Challenger launch has already been delayed once. A window for another was closing. Leaders were concerned about public and congressional perceptions. They may have felt that further delays could impact funding. Group faced time pressure to make decision quickly.

Time affects decisions in two ways. First, it affects decision makers’s mental efficiency and judgement, interfering with ability to concentrate on complicated discussions, absurd new information and use of imagination to anticipate future consequences of alternative courses of action. Second, time pressure is a source of stress. It was effect of inducing policy making group to become more cohesive and more likely to engage in groupthink.

Be aware of the impact that a short decision time frame has on decision processes. When decision must be made quickly, there is more pressure to agree. This means discouragement of dissent, self-censorship, avoidance of expert opinion and assumptions about unanimity.

Leadership of decision making group

Leadership varied from shared type of leadership to a very clear leader in situation. Leadership role needs to be clearly defined. Groupthink problems calls for a style that demands open disclosure of information, points of opposition, complaints and dissension. Leadership style is crucial variable that moderates relationship between group characteristics and the development of the symptoms.

Leadership style is a moderator because of importance it plays in either promoting or avoiding the development of the symptoms of the group. It has potential to allow or assist the group seeking agreement by not forcing the group to critically apprise all alternative courses of action. An effective leader is one that promotes discussion and evaluation of alternatives.

Type of leader must be one that requires all members to speak up with concerns, questions and new information. Play the role of devil’s advocate or make sure others do. Leader should be active in directing activities of the group but do not make preferred solution. He or she should be strong and demanding, someone who forces critical appraisal of alternatives.

Combination of two variables

Leader needs to help members to avoid problems created by the time element. For instance: alter an externally imposed time frame for decision by negotiating an extension, paying late fees if necessary. Additionally, focus on issues rather than time, encouraging dissension and confrontation. Hear the reports from outside experts.

Groupthink decision making defects

1. Few alternatives

Group considers only a few alternatives, often only two. In Challenger’s case, there was only launch / no launch decision. Other possible alternatives could have included delaying the launch.

2. No re-examination of alternatives

Group fails to re-examine alternatives that may have been initially discounted. Based on early unfavourable information. Top NASA officials spent time and effort defending and strengthening their position rather than examining MTI positions.

3. Reflecting expect opinions

Members take little or no attempt to seek outside experts opinions. NASA did not seek out other experts who might have some expertise in this area. They assumed they have all information.

4. Reflecting negative information

Members tend to focus on supportive information and ignore any data and information that cast negative light on their preference. MTI representatives repeatedly tried to point out errors in the rationale the NASA officials were using to identify the launch.

5. No contingency plans

Members spend little time discus sine the possible consequences of the decisions and thus fail to develop contingency plans. In the Challenger case, there are no record of possible consequences of an incorrect decision.

Adapted from

Bazerman, M.H. and Moore, D.A., 1994. Judgment in managerial decision making (p. 226). New York: Wiley.

Common biases in decision making

In general there are three general heuristics namely availability, representative and confirmation heuristics. They encompass eleven specific biases.

Cognitive bias

Economists claim individuals are rational decision makers. They collect a lot of information, examine all alternatives and make decisions that maximise personal satisfaction. However, we do not make decisions in such manner. Mount Everest tragedy In 1996 two Mount Everest expedition teams were caught up in storm high up in the mountain. Both team leaders…

Heuristic definition

Individuals rely on rules of thumb (heuristics) to lessen the information processing demands of making decisions.

Availability heuristic

The inferences we make about event commonness based on the ease with which we can remember instances of that event.

Retrievability bias

We are better at retrieving some subjects from our memory than other things. Individuals base judgement on commonality and easier base strategies.

Base rate fallacy

People tend to ignore background information relevant to the problem such as base rate. We tend to assume that causes and consequences are related.

Gambler’s fallacy

Simple statistics claims each event in a sequence is equally likely to occur. But individuals believe random and non-random events will balance out.

Small sample size fallacy

Simple statistics state that we are more likely to observe an unusual event in a small sample compared to a large one. Learn more.

Conjunction fallacy

Describes how conjunction is judged to be more probable than a single component descriptor. Intuitively thinking, something appears to be more correct.


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