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Groupthink and Decision-Making Process

Introduction

Decision-making is one of the central processes in human lives. Individuals’ lives depend on the choices made concerning certain issues. With the decisions, one’s future becomes either favorable or terrible. In addition, decision-making determines one’s success in a career and also effective leadership within the individual. Similarly, the decision-making process becomes an integral part of organizational processes. Decisions from each management level can have a great implication on its growth and development. With such an integral part in human life, scholars sort to identify how decisions are made and hence identify ways through which human beings could improve on their decision-making processes. Several theories and concepts have hence been enacted to define the decision-making process. Accordingly, this paper will define Janis’ concepts of groupthink and how they differ from the classical approach to decision making. To identify the reliability of the concepts, an example of decision-making cases will be provided.

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Definition of decision making

To have a clear understanding of the process, it is important to define what decision-making is. According to Li (2008, p. 151), decision-making is “…a process of identifying a problem, evaluating alternatives and selecting one alternative.” In this process, decision-makers usually try to identify all possible alternatives and come up with the best choices from among them which look relevant to the existing situation. Simply, decision-making can be termed as a process of coming up with a solution to a problem that has been identified. Li further identifies the three major activities that the process entails. These are the activities of intelligence, the activities of design, and the activities of choice. However, the intensity or complexity of a decision varies from one to the other. There exist simple, easy-to-solve issues while at the same time complicated issues exist. This led to the need for an approach that could assist people during this process. To begin with, the classical theories of decision-making were developed. However, these were later proved to possess shortcomings. Accordingly, more reliable approaches were developed. Among them was Janis’ approach to decision making which developed the concept of groupthink.

Janis’ concepts of decision making

For a long time, the classical decision-making theories remained accepted and applicable to the process of decision-making. Janis’ concepts of groupthink identified weaknesses in the classical approaches. Groupthink is the process by which members of a group get engaged in a thinking mode that is influenced by certain environmental factors that eventually make them fail to consider all the possible alternatives and hence coming up with an irrational decision. In his concepts, Janis identifies several factors that might impede a group’s decision making hence resulting in dire decisions. In his argument, Janis points out that people who work together cohesively tend to suffer from groupthink. In this form of thinking, members tend to seek unanimity, a phenomenon that results in their failure to make an appraisal of other alternatives that could be realistic. He argues that certain conditions within a cohesive group could lead to irrational decisions. He identifies the conditions as pressure due to inevitable short time limit, cohesion within the group where none of the group members would want to disappoint another, the group’s lack of interest in involving outsiders in their decision-making processes, and finally the existence of a preferred solution usually pursued by the group. These are the major factors that could impede rational decision-making (Johnson 2001, p. III).

Characteristics of groupthink

Further still, Janis points out the characteristics of a group suffering from groupthink. Several symptoms are highlighted. One of the symptoms of a group suffering from groupthink is the evidence of a self-important feeling within the group. In most cases, it feels that it is invulnerable and hence no irrational decisions can be made. Secondly, the group has a sense of unanimity. The members tend to agree to a decision unanimously with members having no room for defying the made decisions. This leads to self-censorship of the members in case of doubts and also the presence of confirmation pressure on the members. Thirdly, the group happens to try and rationalize less preferred decisions. Another characteristic of groups suffering from groupthink is that the groups have great appeals o morality. The moral basis seems to be the focal point of their decisions. Finally, these groups tend to negatively stereotype their opponents (Janis 1983, p.46).

Further arguments by Valentin

These concepts are supported by Valentin (1994, p. 54) who argues that an organization’s decisions are made by humans who may be hampered by certain limitations. Information procession by the decision-makers could cause irrational decisions. He argues that humans will process information when based on analogical reasoning, wishful thinking, and idealism, availability of the alternatives, how vivid these alternatives are, simulations, and finally the confirmation of the solutions. Also, the culture of the organization could influence the decisions made by the individuals. Within the culture, there are stipulated ends that the decision-makers must aim at. With such in mind, the decisions made will tend to incline towards the stipulated ends. An individual’s opinions that would bring an end that is different from the organizational culture would be unacceptable. Accordingly, the decision-makers will think from a narrow perspective that leads towards the expected end. Secondly, the organizational culture could be specific to a certain means of solving an existing problem. Equally, this gives no room for other alternative means that would have otherwise been more effective in comparison. This impedes the decision-makers from freely appraising all possible means of deciding an existing issue. In addition, an organizational culture that is not favorable could arise as a result of cohesiveness. Valentin argues that tunnel-vision occurs when individuals within an organization operate cohesively. The prospective and experiences from the diverse members tend to influence other members of the organization and hence resulting in a single structure that is believed by all members. Finally, Valentin (1994, p. 63) includes the decisions making the structure of the organization’s management as another influence to decisions made. Bounded executions would reduce the number of alternatives depending on the number of alternatives provided by the top-level management. Most of the lower-level management will not have the opportunity to offer their perspectives and opinions on the issue.

Differences between groupthink and classical concepts

This approach to decision-making provided new insight into the process. There were many differences as compared to the initially believed classical approaches. One of the most glaring differences between the two approaches is the fact that classical theories believe that “…rationality is equated with scientific reasoning…and logical arguments” (Li 2008, p. 151). On its part, groupthink does not believe that logical arguments by a group are a solution to decision-making. Even with logical arguments and reasoning, a group suffering from groupthink could suffer from irrational decisions. Secondly, decision-makers in classical theories operate within a world of certainty. They are believed to be objective, completely informed, and that they put into consideration all alternatives that are possible. As pointed out earlier, groupthink believes the opposite of this. Decision-makers are impeded by certain factors which could make them fail to consider all the alternatives available and also tend to be less informed.

Personal life example

These two concepts have been evident in my personal life. In addition, the organization that I work with has had to make decisions that eventually happened to come up with unexpected outcomes. By measuring them on the concepts outlined above, there is evidence that the theories can stand the test of time or fail to hold up. To be precise, Janis’ concepts tend to possess some truth as compared to the classical theories which have proved to be less reliable.

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As an individual, I was faced with the task of making a career decision. This was a life-determining affair. I had to make a career choice that would not only give me internal satisfaction but also allow me to be financially stable and secure. To come up with the most favorable decision, I had to include my parents and uncle. In the process of decision-making, we came up with several options for my future career. However, during the process of choosing the most appropriate option, I realized that several options passed without being given any form of consideration. Some careers never even appeared on the list of alternatives, not because I did not wish to take up these careers but just because we felt that they were beyond my grasp. What, therefore, were the determining factors in our decisions? To come up with the list of alternatives, we first looked down the family line and identified some careers that had been most prevalent within my family members. Secondly, we looked at the kind of life being led by the people. This assisted me to understand whether the career could be good enough to give me financial security and stability (Janis 1983, p.46).

Parallel with the concepts

Paralleling our decisions and the concepts, one would realize that we did not possess adequate information concerning all the careers. Secondly, we could not make the decisions objectively. Some factors influenced the choice of careers. Thirdly, we did not operate within a world of certainty. These show that the classical concepts could not be depended upon as the best way of decision-making. However, Janis’ approach is more reliable because it identifies the likely weaknesses that would occur within a group of decision-makers. Accordingly, my parents and uncle felt that they were very important and that they could not make a mistake in their decisions. In addition, the cohesion between the family could not allow me to give other opinions. I had to stick to the unanimity of the decision made by my mother, father, and uncle and hence self-censor my opinions. Finally, the family culture pointed out that none of our family members has been a politician. This automatically excluded any form of a political career within my list of alternatives. Even though I wanted to be the President of our country, I could not bring up this issue because I knew that my parents would not approve of this. While the decision looked good to them, I was not comfortable with it.

Organizational example

The validity of Janis’ theory of groupthink has also been evidenced in the organization where I work. The economic crunch that has had great economic implications did not spare our organization. The most rational decision that the decision-makers could come up with was retrenching workers so that the production cost is cut. This was one of the ways through which the organization would cushion itself from collapse. Although there existed several other alternatives, the upper-level management had already laid more emphasis on retrenchment. The decision-making group also felt that this was the most appropriate way of avoiding bankruptcy. Working as a group, they had to come up with a unanimous decision that would relate to that of the management. The decision was also made with the influence of the pressure from the upper management and the limit of time as the organization had already found itself cash strapped. As a result, the decision to retrench some of the workers was arrived at. This had also been the trend according to the experienced workers. The culture of the organization was retrenching workers whenever it was faced with financial constraints.

While the decision-makers thought the decision was favorable, several influencing factors made them fail to appraise other alternatives. This was exactly the way Janis explains. Certain conditions led to decision-making without considering all alternatives. However, the retrenchment of workers has implemented negatively on the performance of the organization. Some workers who were not experienced by then but seemed to be bright and could be assets to the organization in the future were retrenched. Also, there was an increase of workload to the few existing workers hence compromising the quality of work. As a result, the organization is not able to compete with its rivals in the market. What looked like a good decision has eventually resulted in trouble for the organization.

Conclusion

In conclusion, classic decision-making theories could have been reliable for a good duration of time. However, groupthink concepts show that this is not the most appropriate way of decision-making. The concepts point out that some factors could impede the group’s rationality leading to an irrational decision. Before a decision is made, the time limit, pressure from above, decision makers’ information processing, and the culture f the organization play a very important role in influencing the decision. This is Janis’ concept and it has proved true considering the examples provided.

References

Heller,F. 1992.,Decision making and leadership. New York: Cambridge University Press

Janis, I. 1983., Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascoes. 2d, rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

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Johnson, P. 2001. Effects of groupthink on tactical decision-making. School of Advanced Military Studies. United States Army Command and General Staff College. 2009. Web.

Li, B. 2008. The classical model of decision making has been accepted as not providing an accurate account of how people typically make decisions. International Journal of Business and Management. [e-journal] Web.

Valentin, E. 1994.The Anatomy of fatal business strategy. Journal of Management Studies. 91(3), pp. 359-382

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