Thursday, February 24, 2011


(This was an assignment I did for one of my classes that I thought I would share.)


 Irving L. Janis (as cited in Klein & Stern, 2009) defines groupthink as “members’ strivings for unanimity overriding their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action” (p.3). In addition, Paul’t Hart (as cited in Klein & Stern, 2009) adds that groupthink is “excessive concurrence-seeking,” a behavior that explains “flaws in the operation of small, high-level groups at the helm of major projects or policies that become fiascoes” (p.3).

Daniel Klein holds a Ph.D. in economics from New York University, is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, Associate Fellow of the Ratio Institute, and Chief Editor of Econ Journal Watch. Charlotta Stern is a research fellow at the Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University. In their journal, Groupthink in Academia, they apply the theory of groupthink to majoritarian departmental politics and the professional pyramid in academe. In departmental majoritarianism, they discuss that it is normal for existing scholars to appreciate like minded scholars because it naturally reaffirms their original beliefs and values, avoids friction and stress, and reduces the chance of undermining the credibility of what the department‘s teaching. Those who are hired will tend to fit in to the group—this can be justifiably so—and they tend to repel those who may conflict with their work, thus creating greater and greater uniformity over time. In the professional pyramid, scholars all play their different roles for the institution. All departments have subgroups—which they classify as clubs and then tribes—and they can review and mutually reinforce each other’s work creating collective and self-validation. If the top embraces ideology x, they can appoint ideology x to each of the top departments, and ideology x to each of the top sub departments and so on. This can create an organization which can reflect the characteristics of groupthink. They further provide some antecedent conditions and observational consequences of academic groupthink, along with examples in real life.

Reaching consensus in a group can be confused with having the right answer. The reality is that only one person needs to be right. If that individual fails to speak up because he is taking the path of least resistance, afraid, or some other reason, groupthink can result. A few of the common signs of Groupthink are: 1- An illusion of invulnerability; 2- Stereotypes views of opposition; 3-Self-censorship; 4-Direct pressure on any who expresses strong disagreement; and 5-emergence of self appointed mind guards (Satterlee, 2009). Consequences could be little as little as being wrong to as severe as the loss of precious life as seen from the Challenger disaster.

One of the natural purposes for a group is that the individuals share something in common or its members are like-minded otherwise most groups may not exist in the first place. For example, we may associate with people who share our values, faith, traditions, ideology and philosophy. This does not assume groupthink exists but it can lean towards the greater possibility of it happening. In the summarized article about groupthink in academia, Klein & Stern (2009) believe that the ideology of social democracy (referred to as modern American “liberalism”) is usually the organizational bias in academia and that “conservatives and classical liberals,” if they desire to get into academia, often “find themselves watering down their ideas and cloaking or misrepresenting who they really are” (p.14). Klein & Stern offer some valid economic, philosophical, and social examples of taboo topics and explain that if a new academic hits on those points, “the lack of tribe credentials and seals of approval would justify microdecisions to freeze out such a [new PHD] scholar” (p.14).  If their claim of ideological bias is true, and I personally agree with the claim, it would be interesting to find out why. Now, while there may not be only one single reason as to why this may be the trend, F.A. Hayek  and Peter Klein posit some intriguing theories that I highly recommend. Some symptoms of groupthink stick out from their study including “stereotypes of opposition” and “direct pressure on any who express strong disagreement” (Satterlee, 2009).

Groupthink can also occur in business organizations. Rookmin Maharaj (2009) had conducted several studies of groupthink in corporate governance. She says that knowledge, values and groupthink (skill matrices) account for “31.7 per cent variance in decision-making” (p16). One attempt to fix this was regulations that have mandated that directors be entirely independent from the company in their nomination but the result—which one of the regulators found out first hand—is that it could still lead to groupthink because the independent member may not adequately understand the intricacies of the business to be able to ask enough tough questions. Maharajgoes on to suggest that regulations are only  in the form of a checklist and that the corporation should go much further in taking into account the skills, "behaviors and decision-making” characteristics of the board members (P.15). While transparency and accountability are important, it is also beneficial for the corporation to avoid groupthink because there could be very costly decisions made under its influence. Models have been developed to help identify the proper skill set of board members where being conscious of groupthink is a key element along with continually adding to the skills of the members so that they avoid redundancy and complacency in their decisions and analysis.   Without some form of open or independent constructive criticism, groups can set themselves up to failure with groupthink in one way or another.

Additional signs of groupthink are cohesiveness, insulation of the group, homogeneity of member’s backgrounds, high stress from external threats, and temporarily lowered self-esteem. There are some things we can do to help avoid groupthink beyond what was previously mentioned: (1) assign a non-promotional group leader, and (2) the use of methodical procedures (Mitchell & Eckstein, 2009, p.5). The best tip for avoiding the consequences of groupthink, however, is to remain being strong in our faith in God.  We should not be afraid to stand up and “do what is right and good in the LORD's sight, so that it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 6:18, NIV). The bible also teaches us that "plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15: 22 NIV). I think the point of the verse is to seek wise council of others who are not influenced by one insulated group. Also, we should “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12: 2 NIV). We will all be part of groups but it is important to occasionally take a step back and look inside. We must not be afraid to stand up and be heard if necessary. The right decision is not always the popular decision.

David B.


Klein, D. B., & Stern, C. (2009). Groupthink in Academia: Majoritarian Departmental Politics and the Professional Pyramid. Independent Review, 13(4), 585-600. Retrieved on February 14, 2011, from

Maharaj, R. (2008). Corporate governance, groupthink and bullies in the boardroom. International Journal of Disclosure & Governance, 5(1), 68-92. Retrieved on February 14, 2011, from

Maharaj, R. (2009). Corporate governance decision-making model: How to nominate skilled board members, by addressing the formal and informal systems. International Journal of Disclosure & Governance, 6(2), 106-126. Retrieved on February 14, 2011, from

Mitchell, D. H., & Eckstein, D. (2009). JURY DYNAMICS AND DECISION-MAKING: A PRESCRIPTION FOR GROUPTHINK. International Journal of Academic Research, 1(1), 163-169. . Retrieved on February 14, 2011, from

Packer, z. J. (2009). Avoiding Groupthink: Whereas Weakly Identified Members Remain Silent, Strongly Identified Members Dissent About Collective Problems. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 20(5), 546-548. Retrieved on February 14, 2011, from

Satterlee, A. (2009). Organizational management and leadership: A Christian perspective. Virginia: Synergistics Inc.


  1. Dear David,

    Thank you for using my Corporate Governance model it has proven to be very effective. Just a note you spelt my name incorrectly “Majaraj”.
    The correct spelling is “Maharaj”.
    All the best.

    Dr. Rookmin Maharaj (Ph.D., M.Ed., B.Comm.)
    Advisor Corporate Governance/Corporate Social Responsibility
    Managing Editor, Director of Advertising (CSL)

  2. Dr. Maharaj,

    Thank you for the comments and the spelling correction.