The term groupthink is a kind of false consensus common to decision-making groups dominated by a powerful leader. The relevance of this article to congregational leadership will soon be apparent. Groupthink is also a training video used by many corporations. Though the 30-minute video costs $275 to rent, it is well worth the price tag. For more information, see You can preview the video at this site. Its relevance to the disastrous directions churches -- or Christian movements -- can go in when "consensus" is forced should be immediately apparent.

This study examines the first NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which was avoidable. Eagerness to launch led to a tragic disregard for the cautionary pleas of engineers who were not at all certain than an important O-ring would function during the launch, which was scheduled for a particularly cold time (for Florida). It is a fascinating study, both on the psychological level and on the group dynamic level.

Following is a more detailed explanation of the concept. This article is intended to peak your curiosity, in hopes that you will visit the website and seriously consider the dangers of Groupthink.

I remember well a moment at a staff leadership conference some years ago. The administrator of our geographical region had arranged to show the Groupthink video, and I was rejoicing, heartened that several (in my view) leaders with domineering tendencies would view it and begin to think about its crucial lessons. Yet to my great dismay, all the main decision-making leaders decided they would "fellowship" in the hallway instead -- that somehow this would not apply to them. I was disillusioned. Not to say that I myself didn't need to watch Groupthink, and learn.

The phenomenon of groupthink had caught so many of us up in the enterprise of creating or conniving at false consensuses. But the sad truth is that those who believe they are collaborative leaders, open to input -- and strongly opine that they are above such a crucial leadership failing -- are generally the ones who ensure Groupthink will take place over and over again.

Groupthink is a mode of thinking in which group members' premature striving for agreement overrides their ability to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. Several factors can predispose a group toward Groupthink:

* A highly insulated group with restrained access to outside ideas.
* A stressful decision-making context, such as that caused by deadlines or budgetary pressure.
* External pressures or criticisms, such as those from the media, superiors or competitors.
* A history of recent setbacks.

What part does Groupthink plan in the numerous decisions each of us faces every day? Here are eight symptoms of Groupthink:


1. Illusion of invulnerability. Members feel the group is immune from error, that backup systems will safeguard them from catastrophe.
2. Belief in the inherent morality of the group. May cause us to ignore very real ethical and moral consequences of the decision.

3. Rationalization. Focusing on past success as a guarantee of future success.
4. Negative stereotypes of outsiders. Strong "we" feeling creates a corresponding "they" feeling toward outsiders. Group members may feel outsiders are overly negative, only out to get the group. Group becomes less receptive to balanced criticism from legitimate sources.

5. Self-censorship. Actually a result of individuals devaluing their own opinions when they are in conflict with known values of the group.
6. Direct pressure. Any deviation from group consensus can meet with outright scorn or ridicule. Disagreement with the group is characterized as unacceptable, even disloyal.
7. Mind guards. As a bodyguard protects us from physical damage, mind guards protect the group from damaging input. People are discouraged from expressing their true doubts. Documents may even be suppressed, encouraging the group's shared complacency.
8. Illusion of unanimity. Any threat to the atmosphere of agreement is discounted. Members are encouraged to get with the program, to move the group forward toward a decision. The group's high regard for agreement has not overridden any realistic consideration of alternatives.

The leader can lead and initiate groups in a way that can foster positive decision-making:
* Suspend protocol in favor of an open climate of discussion.
* Encourage criticism to avoid insulation from negative opinions.
* Assign members as critical evaluators to criticize all aspects of the decision.
* Avoid being directive by being deliberately absent to avoid exerting undue influence.

These factors lead to a productive, consensual decision-making process.