Groupthink Often Leads to Bad Decisions

Group Thinking With One Leader

Most people have experienced groupthink in a work setting, even if they didn’t realize it at the time. Groupthink is one of the most dangerous mindsets for leadership and employees to slip into, but it happens every day.

Nonprofits can be especially damaged by singular mindsets and should take special caution to ensure it is not impacting their bottom line.

By identifying groupthink when it occurs and taking professional steps towards awareness of the issue, it is possible to maintain balanced, diverse perspectives leading to improved decision making for the nonprofit.

Now that you know this phenomenon exists, what exactly is it? And how do you keep it from infiltrating your decision-making process?

What is Groupthink?

Groupthink is a social psychological event where everyone in a group misbelieves that there is consensus on a topic. Irving Janis has been credited with researching and coining this phenomenon.

In a group environment, members of the group are unwilling (or unable) to accept the idea that anyone could disagree with them and immediately dismiss alternative opinions.

This type of mentality creates an environment of myopic views and suppresses the opportunity for group members to express diverse perspectives. It changes the dynamics of a group, and anyone who voices an anti-majority opinion may be shunned or treated differently.

Groupthink has negative consequences for company culture and relationships between staff members. Often when this phenomenon occurs, employees start using words like “toxic work environment” to describe the suppression of their thoughts. Individuals unfamiliar with the concept may not understand that it is occurring in their group and may start to doubt themselves.

What Are the Signs and Causes of Groupthink?

Groupthink is sometimes difficult to spot in a workplace. Since it feels so ingrained, it is hard for group members to objectively look at group decisions and convince other members that they may be wrong.

The first sign that a group may be experiencing groupthink is that members do not feel heard when they voice opposing opinions. Since the group focuses on its self-preservation and identity, it then behaves negatively towards those with differing opinions.

Due to feeling shunned or treated negatively by the group, individual members then begin to withhold their opinions or withhold information that could change decisions. They are scared of being further excluded and feel like their views are wrong.

Since the lead members of the group are unquestioned, they then further believe that their thoughts are correct and continue to rationalize their behavior.

Once groupthink is well established, it is tremendously difficult to break free from the echo chamber.

What is the Impact of Groupthink?

Groupthink almost always ends in negative decision-making. Due to its narrow-minded, limited scope of acceptance, individuals develop tunnel vision on solutions to issues, and they may not necessarily appropriately serve the people most impacted.

Since people are likely to seek out like-minded individuals as friends or align themselves with similar people in a workspace, groupthink can quickly evolve.

In the workplace, you may see groups forming between colleagues with a “them vs. us” mindset. This divisive mindset does not just happen during brainstorm sessions but is often carried into the social aspect of the company.

As some employees may find themselves self-censoring or losing confidence, it is common to see apathy from individuals who are not on the “winning” side of the table.

Groupthink can cause significant damage because logical, well-thought-out, and well-planned strategies are often unable to be negotiated. This can lead to poor business and financial decisions and can sometimes cast the company or organization in a bad light if the thought process is out of tune with the public.

The Impact of Company Culture on Groupthink

While you cannot predict which companies will fall into a groupthink mindset, it is possible for leaders to monitor employee dynamics. Company culture and workplace relationships between employees can become difficult when there are power struggles or the CEO has specifically hired people who are aligned with their personal thoughts and values.

Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes, the co-founder of 109 World and Forbes council member,  writes about the importance of nonprofits focusing on developing a positive, aligned company culture. She discusses the importance of zeroing in on the individual experience in the workplace and advises leadership to draft and adjust policies and procedures that help improve the group experience at the individual level. She states, “ Individual action thereby activates collective power.

The Importance of Diverse Perspectives for Nonprofits

In nonprofits, ensuring well-rounded, diverse perspectives are a key method of avoiding groupthink in decision-making positions.

Since the end goal of nonprofits is not to earn money but to serve a population in need, it is essential that the organization stays in touch with the mindset of participants. If you stray too far from what participants (and donors!) think is appropriate, it is likely that the legitimacy and loyalty that your organization hold could easily slip away.

It is not uncommon to have a room full of decision-makers who think they have a great plan, only for a member of a minority group to say, “You’re not actually going to do that, are you?” Drawing on resources, perspectives, and opinions of members of the target group is a good step at making sure your staff or board does not fall into groupthink.

When considering hiring new staff members or electing new board members, it is important to keep the idea of diversity at the back of your mind. Asking yourself if a new individual will add to and challenge the group or if they will shrink back and keep things status quo is important in creating a well-rounded group.

How to Avoid Groupthink

There are many ways to avoid groupthink in nonprofits, and nearly all of them start at the leadership level. It takes a self-aware, experienced executive director or board chair to be able to ward off groupthink.

Leaders who don’t like being challenged or make their wishes known before discussion happens can set the group up for self-censorship. A sign of an experienced, dynamic leader is letting the members of the group all say their piece before they let their thoughts known. Welcoming discussion and opposing viewpoints is a great way to keep ideas flowing.

If you think that group members were holding back their ideas, you can always call another meeting to try to draw them out. Sometimes taking a step away from the decision before implementing can give you the chance to think critically, or perhaps a group member may be more willing to express opinions in a smaller setting.


Groupthink is a mindset that is easy to slip into, especially when a group is very familiar with each other. There are many dynamics at play in groups, including psychologically, politically, and socially.

We all enter situations with personal bias that comes from our lived experiences and inherent beliefs. Being able to think critically is imperative to creating lasting, effective change.

When a group is filled with like-minded members, individuals start to take on a “group identity.” In order to best serve the population of the organization, it is essential that group members are able to think beyond the four walls of the workplace.

Never be scared to play the devil’s advocate during group discussion, and be firm about allowing space for differing opinions. Strong leaders know that we do not change if we are not challenged, and improving your decision-making process is no different.

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