In group favouritism and groupthink

In group favouritism

Most of us help out people we favour (e.g. friends and relatives). We like people like ourselves e.g. individuals who went to the same college, work with us or are the same race. We tend to identify with people who are a lot like us. We are more comfortable doing favours for those within whom we identify than for those noticeably different. Individuals tilt towards helping people who share our nationality, religion, race, gender and alma matter.

However, there are some problems with this tendency. Human beings tend to exclude underrepresented minorities. When majority of people favour people similar to them, they allocate scarce resources (e.g. jobs and college admissions) and thus discriminate those different from them.


Groupthink is present when a cohesive team experiences tremendous pressures for conformity and people strike for unanimity at the expense of critical thinking. This is more likely to arise when groups are highly cohesive and face great deal of stress and pressure. Groupthink results in undesirable decisions even if the group is cohesive and members have great intellect, deep knowledge and good intentions.

Bay of pigs

One example of groupthink is present in Bay of Pigs Mission in 1961. CIA trained a force of Cuban exiles in Central America to prepare for invasion to over through communist dictator Fidel Castro. CIA presented its plan to president Kennedy. He asked Joint Chiefs of Staff to look at the plan and they concluded it would work. However, this would have worked only with certain corrections e.g. add U.S. soldiers or help internal appraising in Cuba.

After a few weeks, CIA said it was time to invade. CIA acted as both advocates and evaluators (analysts). Key experts from within organisation did not join meetings for deliberation. Candid dialogue and debate did not take place at the meetings.

A number of people held back their concerns about the plan. Many assumptions were made but they were not well vetted. One key subordinate concerns were not shared by this boss with the president Kennedy and the rest of the cabinet. CIA dominated the meeting and Joint Chiefs of Staff remained silent.

The group spend time trying to tweak the proposal rather than examining other options. They also failed to consider any alternatives. The focus was on go / no go decision. Over time, plan gathered momentum. This is evidence of sunk-cost effects. CIA felt as if they had to go forward based on the past investments and efforts. President went ahead with the plan despite his own concerns.

This was a complete fiasco. Most of the rebels were captured and killed. Fidel Castro retained power. Internal prestige grew. Invasion also harmed reputation and relations with the Soviets. The following year, they put nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Warning signals

Here are some signals that your group is not having a sufficient dialogue.

  1. Management meetings seem like polite games of golf.
  2. Subordinates have to wait before commenting on issues.
  3. Planning and strategy sessions seem more like preparation rather dialogue
  4. Some people tend to dominate the meetings,
  5. Concerns and feedback from several levels below are rarely heard.
  6. Executives simply ratify decisions that have already made through the channels.
  7. People are highly concerned about rules when communicating across horizontal or vertical units.
  8. Group members rarely hear from someone who is concerned about criticism and opposition encountered during proposal.

Major barriers to candid dialogue

  1. Structural complexity in and around the team
  2. People’s roles are ambiguous
  3. Homogenous composition
  4. Large status differences
  5. Leaders who fail to admit mistakes

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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