Groupthink and the EIS

Created on: 25 Jan 2018 | Last modified: 24 Aug 2018


The following resolution was carried by the Council meeting in January 2014:

"That this Council resolve to investigate and report on the phenomenon of 'Groupthink' and on how training and practices to detect and avoid it might be organised and deployed within the EIS."

The range of scholarly research on the phenomenon of Groupthink is extensive. A social psychologist, Irving Janis, coined the term in the early 1970s in his examination of US foreign policy fiascoes and disasters. Since then, it has been used to explain the group dynamics at play in disastrous situations and decisions as far-ranging as the shuttle disaster in the 1980s, to the organisational culture within the RBS leading up to the financial crash in 2008.

Janis' theory suggests that Groupthink is a state in which groups of key decision- makers do not properly test their shared attitudes and assumptions, or properly question and evaluate even their own reactions to situations, their own stances or perspectives or biases on an issue, in the lead-up to making crucial decisions.

Unwittingly, groups end up placing cohesiveness and consensus over deep critical analysis. They start to ignore or dismiss external or diverse viewpoints; they start to want to limit dissent and to believe in their own ethical correctness and in the folly of any opponents.

Despite much of the research focus being on high-level international events and decisions, it is clear that any group in any organisation can fall victim to Groupthink, especially an organisation relying on committee structures, and especially when the group in question is under considerable pressure. A fuller summary of the features of Groupthink can be found in Appendix 1.

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