GroupThink & GroupShift

There is a major difference between group discussion, group decision making, groupthink and groupshift. In order to maintain a well-functioning group, one should encourage group discussions and collaborative decision making but in the same place should try to eliminate groupthink and groupshift.

It sounds a bit confusing now but by the end of this chapter we will get a clear idea about these two topics.


Sometimes we feel like speaking up in a meeting, classroom, or informal group, but decide against it. Why?

Mainly due to shyness, or we may have been victim of groupthink. The phenomenon that arises when group members become so enamored of seeking concurrence that the norm for consensus alters the realistic appraisal of substitute courses of action and the full expression of deviant, minority or unpopular views.

It worsens an individual’s mental efficiency, reality, testing, and moral judgment due to group pressure.

The symptoms of the groupthink phenomena are −

  • Group members justify any resistance to the assumptions they have made. No matter how firmly the evidence contradicts their basic assumptions, members behave in way so as to reinforce those assumptions continually.

  • Members apply direct pressure on those who briefly present their doubts about any of the views shared by the group or the one who question’s the validity of arguments supporting the substitute favored by the majority.

  • Members reserving doubt or holding contradicting viewpoints seek to avoid deviation from what appears to be group consensus, by maintaining silence about misgivings and minimizing the importance of their doubts to themselves.

  • An illusion of unanimity appears in the picture. If someone doesn’t speak, it is assumed that he or she is in favor. In other words, silence becomes viewed as a ‘Yes’ vote.


In balancing group decisions with the individual decisions of members within the group, evidence hints that there are differences. In some cases, the group decisions are more timid than the individual decisions. More often, the shift is close to greater risk.

What appears to happen in groups is that the discussion results in a significant shift in a position of members towards a more extreme position in the direction in which they were already leaning before the discussion.

So conservative types become more cautious and the more intrusive types take on more risk. The group discussion tends to fabricate the initial position of the group.

Group shift is the phenomena in which individual decisions make way for exaggerated group decisions. Group shift can be seen as a special case of groupthink.

The decision of the group shows the dominant decision-making norm that is developed during the group’s discussion. Whether the shift in the group’s decision is towards greater deliberation or more risk depends on the dominant pre-discussion norm.

The greater episode of the shift towards risk has generated several explanations for the phenomenon. It has been argued, for instance, that the discussion creates familiarization between members. As they become more comfortable with each other, they also become more bold, confident and daring.

Group decisions free any single individual from accountability for the group’s final choice. Greater risk can be taken as even if the decision fails, no single individual can be held wholly responsible.

Techniques to Eliminate Groupthink & Groupshift

In order to eliminate group think and group shift from a group, we can use four different techniques that will help us make a collaborative decision that is best for the group. These techniques are −

  • Brainstorming
  • Nominal group thinking
  • Didactic technique
  • Delphi technique


This technique includes a group of people, mostly between five and ten in number, sitting around a table, producing ideas in the form of free association. The main focus is on generation of ideas and not on evaluation of these ideas.

If more ideas can be originated, then it is likely that there will be a unique and creative idea among them. All these ideas are written on the blackboard with a piece of chalk so that all the team members can see every idea and try to improvise these ideas.

Brainstorming technique is very effective when the problem is comparatively precise and can be simply defined. A complex problem can be divided into parts and each part can be dealt with separately at a time.

Nominal Group Thinking

This technique is similar to brainstorming except that this approach is more structured. It motivates individual creativity.

Members form the group for namesake and operate independently, originate ideas for solving the problem on their own, in silence and in writing. Members do not communicate well with each other so that strong personality domination is evaded.

The group coordinator either collects the written ideas or writes them on a large blackboard so that each member of the group can see what the ideas are.

These ideas are further discussed one by one in turn and each participant is motivated to comment on these ideas in order to clarify and improve them. After all these ideas have been discussed, they are evaluated for their merits and drawbacks and each actively participating member is needed to vote on each idea and allot it a rank on the basis of priority of each alternative solution.

The idea with the highest cumulative ranking is selected as the final solution to the problem.

Didactic Interaction

This technique is applicable only in certain situations, but is an excellent method when a situation actually demands it.

The type of problem should be such that it generates output in the form of yes or no. Say for example, a decision is to be made whether to buy or not to buy a product, to merge or not to merge, to expand or not to expand and so on. These types of decision requires an extensive and exhaustive discussion and investigation since a wrong decision can have serious consequences.

There are many advantages as well as disadvantages of this type of situation. The group that makes the decision is divided into two sub-groups, one in favor of the “go” decision and the opposing in favor of the “no go” decision.

The first group enlists all the “pros” of the problem solution and the second group lists all the “cons”. These groups meet and discuss their discoveries and their reasons.

After tiring discussions, the groups switch sides and try to find weaknesses in their own original standpoints. This interchange of ideas and understanding of various viewpoints results in mutual acceptance of the facts as they exist so that a solution can be put together around these facts and ultimately a final decision is reached.

Delphi Technique

This technique is the improvised version of the nominal group technique, except that it involves obtaining the opinions of experts physically distant from each other and unknown to each other.

This isolates group members from the undue influence of others. Basically, the types of problems sorted by this technique are not specific in nature or related to a particular situation at a given time.

Say for example, the technique could be used to explain the problems that could be created in the event of a war. The Delphi technique includes the following steps −

  • The problem is first identified and a panel of experts are selected. These experts are asked to provide potential solutions through a series of thoughtfully designed questionnaires.

  • Each expert concludes and returns the initial questionnaire.

  • The results of the questionnaire are composed at a central location and the central coordinator prepares a second set of questionnaire based on the previous answers.

  • Each member receives a copy of the results accompanied by the second questionnaire.

  • Members are required to review the results and respond to the second questionnaire. The results typically trigger new solutions or motivate changes in the original ideas.

  • The process is repeated until a general agreement is obtained.