The ill-fated launch of the Challenger on January 28, 1986, provides a perfect illustration of how the groupthink hypothesis can lead to catastrophic results. The senior management authorized the launch of the space shuttle despite the presentation of evidence that indicated otherwise. Recordings from that day show more than four symptoms of groupthink during the decision-making process (Moss, 2014). The most apparent symptom was the illusion of invulnerability and self-censorship. Before the launch date, NASA had a spectacular record of 55 successful missions and had not lost a cosmonaut since 1967 (Moorhead, Ference, and Neck, 1991). The consistent string of successes gave a false sense of security, encouraging the committee to launch despite the unfavorable weather conditions. Censorship is also evident in how some members easily conformed to the group’s decision even though they had some reservations. Team members restrained themselves from realistically proposing an alternative course of action, thereby contributing to the poor decision.
Eliminating groupthink is a critical step in ensuring organizational success. Institutions can achieve this by implementing strategies that counteract the symptoms and effects of group thinking. For instance, the stepladder technique provides a viable solution to the illusion of invulnerability (Markey, 2019). It involves discussing the problem first between two members and then including the other members one at a time. This strategy aims at allotting adequate time for critical thinking to reduce the urgency for members to conform. Another approach is redesigning leadership to allow impartiality and open inquiry (Bang and Frith, 2017). It involves restricting the leader from affirming personal preferences at the expense of group discussions. It also eliminates self-censorship by allowing the team member with the most expertise to challenge the group’s assumptions, offer an alternative perspective, and provide recommendations.
Bang, D. and Frith, C.D. (2017). Making better decisions in groups. Royal Society Open Science, [online] 4(8), p.170193.
Markey, M. (2019). Council Post: Three Approaches for Eliminating Groupthink on Your Work Teams. [online] Forbes.
Moorhead, G., Ference, R. and Neck, C.P. (1991). Group Decision Fiascoes Continue: Space Shuttle Challenger and a Revised Groupthink Framework. Human Relations, 44(6), pp.539–550.
Moss, D. (2014). Groupthink. [Video]