In a 3-4 page paper, describe an instance of Groupthink that occurred at your workplace (or an example from another organization or group) and then answer the following questions:

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In a 3-4 page paper, describe an instance of Groupthink that occurred at your workplace (or an example from another organization or group) and then answer the following questions:

  • What were the circumstances of the Groupthink and how did it unfold? Who was involved? Be sure to explain your role, if any.
  • Which of Janis’ symptoms of Groupthink do you think were present? Explain. (See Week 5: Lecture – What Explains Diffusion of Responsibility.)
  • What were the ramifications of the Groupthink in this situation?
  • What actions might have been taken to prevent Groupthink from occurring, and how might that alternative outcome have looked?

***Below is Week 5 information***

At its most basic, diffusion of responsibility is illustrated by mob behavior. At a soccer game, a group of angry fans forms without any clear leader pushes down a fence and ransacks the premises. There literally is no one responsible. Yet it seems somehow odd to lock everyone up as a criminal. Who done it?

When Winston Moseley murdered Kitty Genovese within earshot of 38 people, many commentators saw it as in the instance of callousness characteristic of New Yorkers. Two social psychologists, James Darley (Links to an external site.) and Bibb Latané (Links to an external site.), were not so sure. In a series of experiments that others continue to refine, they learned that people sitting alone will respond to indications of a crisis (such as smoke coming under a door, suggesting there might be a fire close by), but even as few as two people will often fail to do anything. Some of their experiments indicate that face-to-face communication between people seeing the smoke improves the likelihood that one or both of them will get up and investigate. The tendency to do nothing is often called the Bystander Effect (Links to an external site.).

Some people believe that the bystander effect takes hold because those doing nothing assume that someone else is taking care of the problem. (Some reports indicate that many of the 38 people in the Genovese case gave this explanation for their own inaction.) Others point out that people frequently “don’t want to get involved” for a variety of reasons such as inconvenience, embarrassment, and fear of incompetence. Yet another explanation says that people do nothing because no one else is doing anything. In effect, the inaction of others validates my own inaction. If it were an emergency or required action, they reason, someone would be doing something. This version of the failure to act is sometimes called Pluralistic Ignorance (Links to an external site.).

A close cousin to the Bystander Effect is the Abilene Paradox (Links to an external site.). This gets its name from an anecdote about a family of four who collectively decided to make a 53-mile trip to Abilene, Texas for dinner in a restaurant when none of them really wanted to go there. While playing dominoes together, the father-in-law mentions that they might go to Abilene for dinner. The other three make positive comments. They go, the trip is hot and dusty, the food is subpar, and no one has a good time. Afterward, each admits that it was no fun and would rather have stayed home. “I only went along because I thought you wanted to go” was the tenor of their remarks.[2]

The Bystander Effect, Pluralistic Ignorance, and the Abilene Paradox are specific instances of the larger phenomenon labeled Groupthink by the late social psychologist Irving Janis.[3] As articulated by Janis, Groupthink has eight symptoms that he puts into three groups:

Type I. Overestimation of the Group

  1. Illusion of Invulnerability
  2. Belief in Inherent Morality of the Group

Type II. Closed-Mindedness

  1. Collective Rationalizations
  2. Stereotypes of Out-Groups

Type III. Pressures Toward Uniformity

  1. Self-Censorship
  2. Illusion of Unanimity
  3. Direct Pressure on Dissenters
  4. Self-Appointed Mindguards

It is not my purpose to explore the psychology of Groupthink except as necessary to talk about the ethical implications of this phenomenon. Some bad decisions lead to death, destruction, and other forms of harm as in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Challenger launch decision, the Watergate burglary and cover-up, and the decision to prolong the occupation in Iraq past the initial 1-2 months. In the corporate and professional world, such collective decisions in which no one is clearly responsible are far too numerous as well.

The consequences of diffused responsibility require that we think about what is going on and whether we can do anything to prevent or at least to mitigate occurrences of Groupthink. Anytime a professional (doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, etc.) works within an organization, the tendency toward Groupthink can give rise to moral dilemmas for the professional. But this also holds true for the organization employee who is not working as a licensed professional. As I mentioned early in the course, every employee who has discretion in the use of corporate power has a fiduciary duty to the organization to use it responsibly in furtherance of the legitimate interests of the organization and its stakeholders. If Groupthink interferes with the performance of that fiduciary duty, leading to bad consequences, then the employee/professional must take steps to counteract Groupthink if possible.

Here is also a web page that has helpful information:

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