What is Groupthink? 1

What is Groupthink?

By Mark Harris

In my most recent newsletter article, “The Issue Is Never the Issue,” I attempted to highlight the damage that groupthink is having on our society.

The term “Groupthink” was coined in 1972 by social psychologist Irving L. Janis. He observed a psychological phenomenon whereby people striving for consensus within a group, would often set aside their own personal beliefs rather than disrupt the uniformity of the group. People who were opposed to the prevailing opinion of the group would frequently remain quiet. Preferring to keep the peace rather than face of overwhelming pressure from the group, they would adopt the majority opinion of the group.

In her article for VeryWell Minded entitled, “What is GroupThink?,” Kendra Cherry wrote,

 “While groupthink can generate consensus, it is by definition a negative phenomenon that results in faulty or uninformed thinking and decision-making. Some of the problems it can cause include:

  • Blindness to potentially negative outcomes
  • Failure to listen to people with dissenting opinions
  • Lack of creativity
  • Lack of preparation to deal with negative outcomes
  • Ignoring important information
  • Inability to see other solutions
  • Not looking for things that might not yet be known to the group
  • Obedience to authority without question
  • Overconfidence in decisions
  • Resistance to new information or ideas”                        (https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-groupthink-2795213)

Nobody that I know wants to experience the negative consequences of groupthink, or worse, contribute to it. Cherry explains, “Group consensus can allow groups to make decisions, complete tasks, and finish projects quickly and efficiently—but even the most harmonious groups can benefit from some challenges.” 

Several years ago, the 4Tucson staff created a ministry tool called our Sandbox. It is a metaphor designed to provide maximum clarity for our organization and to empower our staff and volunteers to make decisions that are aligned with our vision and mission. The play area in a sandbox is where all the fun happens. We invite people in the city to join 4Tucson and play with us in the sandbox of biblical transformation.

Internally within 4Tucson we created a culture that provides everyone in key leadership roles the opportunity to express their own ideas and to argue for or against ideas that are being proposed. To do this, we implemented a process called IDSIdentify the issue, Discuss it, and agree on a Solution. Our staff members have very diverse points of view on many different subjects. We want to glean from all points of view to create an informed solution – especially when the solution involves a controversial subject.

My last newsletter article raised a new issue for our staff to IDS. The issue we Identified was how to best address controversial issues in our city. Our process helps us avoid falling into the trap of groupthink. All points of view are welcomed, heard and considered. In this particular case, we Discussed the need to research the issue in more depth. As part of the Solution, those of us who had opposing views agreed to study the issue together and discuss what we could learn from the other point-of-view. We also agreed to seek the wisdom of other organizations around the nation who had more experience addressing controversial issues, and to learn their best practices.

At the time of this writing, I would not say we have a mutually agreed upon Solution. But I am happy to report that we have a high commitment to learn and grow together.

I hope as you watch how we IDS controversial topics, it will encourage you to play with us in the biblical city transformation sandbox. We don’t claim to have it all together, but if you are ready to join the 4Tucson team and help us create positive solutions for our city, here is the link for you to become a member: https://www.4tucson.com/become-a-member/

I hope to see you at one of our next gatherings.


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Our Mission is to unite and mobilize Christians, empowering them to put biblical principles into action as we engage our city's most systemic issues.

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