RGOB’s problem of Group Think

Group think is a concept that was identified by Irving Janis that refers to faulty decision-making in a group. Groups experiencing group think do not consider all alternatives and they desire unanimity and cooperation at the expense of quality decisions. Unfortunately for Bhutan, the problem of group-think is rife in Bhutanese officialdom.

Conditions Group-think occurs when groups are highly cohesive and too ready to agree with one another. In our government circles, the reasons for this readiness seem to stem from a chronic case of dissent-aversion and a widespread readiness to indulge in the fruits of proactive sycophancy.
Negative outcomes Some negative outcomes of group-think include:

  • Not examining enough options: all too often outcomes are predetermined or assumed and there is not enough study of other options
  • Not being critical of each others’ ideas: Specially in a small and traditional society, trying not to offend others often is achieved at the cost of critical analysis. Criticizing the ideas of the boss is often difficult in Bhutan.
  • Not thoroughly checking one’s own facts
  • Depending on one’s own opinions instead of seeking expert opinion
  • Selectively gathering information
  • Not having contingency plans
Symptoms Some symptoms of group-think are:

  • Having an illusion of invulnerability: Citizens rarely challenge government decisions as individuals and this has led to the illusion of invulnerability or infallibility.
  • Rationalizing poor decisions: This is a lazy way of dealing with the outcome of poor decisions and it allows the decision maker to sleep without a guilty conscience. This has flourished in Bhutan due to limited accountability.
  • Believing in the group’s morality: One of the common ways of justifying poor policies or decisions is the assumption that anything done by the government offices is ‘for the good’ of the country. Many government officials go so far as to believe that laws apply only to the people but not government departments.
  • Sharing stereotypes which guide the decision: The public are not encouraged to challenge official policies or decisions. Those who do are quickly stereotyped as ‘difficult’ or ‘trouble makers’ or ‘unreasonable’ and the Nepali term ‘kachara’ is the label often applied. This also applies to officers within the department.
  • Exercising direct pressure on others
  • Not expressing your true feelings: Too often in government offices, ‘team players’ are defined as those who do as they are told. Future careers often depend on how ‘cooperative’ one is. The environment therefore is not conducive for frank exchanges.
  • Maintaining an illusion of unanimity
  • Using mind-guards to protect the group from negative information
Solutions Some solutions include:

  • Including the views of randomly selected stakeholders
  • Having leaders remain impartial with a clear vision of the goals
  • Using a policy-forming group which reports to the larger group
  • Using different policy groups for different tasks
  • Dividing into groups and then discuss differences
  • Using outside experts
  • Using a Devil’s advocate to question all the group’s ideas
  • Holding a “second-chance meeting” to offer one last opportunity to choose another course of action
  • Practicing transparency
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