How Groupthink Works

Originally posted on March 26, 2018 @ 6:35 AM

How Groupthink Works

imageIn light of the binary discourse that is floating about my last blog, Like A Collective Brain Snap, this may serve as a follow up.

People often scratch their heads wondering why people do things and in exasperation and dismissal come up with the traditional stupidity/idiot causation scenario. This kind of binary thinking floods the airwaves of safety due to poor levels of education and a lack of transdisciplinarity in the sector. However, there is plenty of research about on how social context influences arational decision making. Any level of study in the Social Psychology of Risk would give reasonable explanation to why people do what seems inexplicable things based upon reinforcement behaviourist theory that sadly dominates safety.

Let’s look at the actions of the senior players of the Australian cricket team and see what we know about groupthink. There are of course hundreds of heuristics and biases tied to this list but this is not the space to explore them.

The critical elements of groupthink are:

  1. The need for social identity maintenance (SIM)
  2. Tight group cohesion

  3. External collective threat

  4. Identity protection motivations

  5. Cues that invoke social categorisation

  6. Agreement and conformity to SIM

  7. Directive leadership

  8. Limited search and appraisal of information

  9. Insulation from experts (group bubble)

  10. Illusions of invulnerability

  11. Collective rationalisation

  12. Stereotyping of outgroupness

  13. Pressures toward uniformity/compliance

  14. Suppression of questioning and critical thinking

  15. Conversations about risk suppression

These 15 criteria help to explain how a senior group of leaders under the right circumstances make a decision that doesn’t make sense to us. Any combination of these factors strengthens the possibility of groupthink in any given situation. It would seem that quite a number of these factors were present in the senior player lunch room for the Australian cricket team.

There are of course a number of strategies organisations can undertake to reduce the likelihood of groupthink but it would appear that these were not present or available to the senior players of the team. Needless to say, the same neutralising criteria are not fostered anywhere in the safety industry which means that Safety is just as prone to groupthink as Smith and his senior players.

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