How It Works
The Groupthink Index is used most effectively in the context of a team development intervention. It is appropriate for senior management teams, project teams, cross-functional teams, self-managing teams, and a variety of other teams. Because the concept of groupthink is a more sophisticated notion of what can go wrong in group decision making, it is not useful for all teams. Teams benefiting from this instrument will have a higher level of education, experience, and skill, in addition to being more mature in their interpersonal relationships. The facilitator will need to make a careful assessment of the team and its members before introducing the GroupThink Index.
The author facilitated a team building session with a senior management team. It was the afternoon of the second day and the learning experience had gone exceptionally well. People who had barely spoken to one another before the program now shared their hopes and dreams with the entire team. They had clearly reached a new level of team development, a stage of good feelings, esprit de corps, and closeness.
Then the group undertook a standard consensus exercise. It was a survival problem in which a limited number of available items must be used creatively if the group is to survive. The group members approached their work with excitement and determination. They were now a team and nothing could stop them. Unfortunately, they were so eager to agree with one another that they accepted weak rationales for items without thinking critically of challenging the assumptions on which they were based.
Of course, the results were disastrous, and they were disappointed with themselves and with their performance. What could have gone wrong? The author sensed it was the new level of cohesiveness that got in their way. They had worked so hard during the previous day-and-a-half that they did not want to disagree over what seemed to be a relatively unimportant project. They went along with one another to preserve the group's unity, and the results were far less than they were capable of achieving. If only there was some way to help them understand the positive and negative effects of cohesiveness.
Other than explaining the concept of groupthink, there was no convincing tool. After the session, the author resolved to create an instrument that could help groups break out of the pleasant state of good feelings they often achieve. It was important to move them to a state of interdependence where challenges to group members could have the effect of stimulating greater group effort, not tearing down what they had already built.