Groupthink, a psychological phenomenon that results in groups making irrational or dysfunctional decisions, is a large issue within most teams. When groups are making decisions, groupthink can lead to poor decision making due to a desire for harmony or conformity.This can affect decisions throughout departments within an organization. Although groups often have the best intentions, they frequently make poor decisions due to the effects of groupthink.
One of the most important decisions a company regularly makes is who to hire. If companies make poor hiring decisions it has the potential to affect everyone in the company, and the business as a whole. A bad hire can lead to a domino effect of negative experiences within the company.
Symptoms of Groupthink
There are eight symptoms of groupthink that regularly appear in group decision making situations. These symptoms are illusion of invulnerability, collective rationalization, illusion or morality, excessive stereotyping, pressure for conformity, self-censorship, illusion of unanimity, and mindguards.
In hiring situations, some of these are more frequent than others. Companies have different ways of running their hiring processes, but most companies have multiple people making decisions on who to hire. Whether it is an executive or HR team, or interdepartmental or single-department group, poor hiring decisions are sometimes made due to the symptoms of groupthink. The most common symptoms to recognize in hiring situations are illusion of invulnerability, pressure for conformity, self- censorship and the illusion of unanimity.
Illusion of Invulnerability
Often times groups can be overly optimistic and take significant risks when making decisions. If group members liked a candidate personally, despite a lack of necessary competencies or experience for the role. Organizations sometimes take a risk on a candidate with less experience, and convince themselves they can train the person to be an excellent employee. This can cause problems when a candidate doesn’t learn the necessary skills quickly enough, or isn’t not accurate or efficient in newly learned skills.
Pressure for Conformity
Members of the group tend to pressure naysayers by making them feel as though they are disloyal to the group as a whole. By doing this, members feel pressured to conform to the expressed opinion or decision as opposed to stating their argument against the current decision. This can happen in hiring decisions when one person has an argument for why someone shouldn’t be hired, but the discussion is leading toward making an offer. By discouraging their opinion and getting them to conform, the group can miss out on a valid reason for not moving forward with a candidate that could cause problems once hired.
Sometimes group members withhold their dissenting views and counterarguments. Though this is something internal within a member, it can be caused by a lack of openness in the group, and can lead to vital information or perceptions, which would have a large effect on the decision, being withheld. If a group member experienced or noticed something about a candidate that no one else did, it is important that it is shared with the group during discussion. If they self-censor, and keep the information to themselves, it cannot be considered by the group when making a final hiring decision.
Illusion of Unanimity
The group falsely perceive that everyone is in agreement with a group decision. People often follow-up a decision with the questions ‘Does anyone have any issues with this decision?’. Though the person asking the question may genuinely want to hear dissent, the group can feel as though their dissenting view is not actually wanted, and remain silence. In these situations, people feel that silence equals agreements, even though multiple group members may not agree. If people assume everyone is in agreement on a candidate due to silence, they will likely move forward with a decision, even if others are silently in disagreement. This can come into play when choosing to hire someone who people actually don’t want to hire, and when rejecting someone people feel should be issued an offer.
Unfortunately, everyone is vulnerable to groupthink in one situation or another. However, there are a lot of things that groups can do to avoid the dreaded effects of groupthink when making important decisions. First of all, groups should be made aware of the symptoms and consequences of groupthink. Through education, members are more self-aware of their personal susceptibility, along with the signs of groupthink, making them more likely to lead the team away from a groupthink situation. The group leader is also an important factor in avoiding the consequences of groupthink. Group leaders should create an open and accepting environment, and encourage airing objections and doubts, and being accepting of criticism. Groups should also consult outside experts, and discuss tentative decisions with colleagues outside of the group before a final decision is made.
It is important to equip decision making groups with the knowledge and resources necessary to reduce groupthink in hiring decisions. Hiring teams should be educated on groupthink effects, given outside experts to consult with, and discuss candidates in an open and encouraging environment.