Master Facilitator Journal

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0488, May 10, 2011

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Dear Friends,

The malady befalling many groups known as "groupthink" is something most everyone has heard of, but what is it really? What causes it? And is there anything we can do to avoid it? These are questions we seek to answer in this week's article, Taming the Groupies, answers that all group workers need to know.

Also, I've made special arrangements with Consulting Today to represent their article collections based on several themes that may be of interest to facilitators, consultants, and coaches. Please have a look at summaries of these
collections at the end of this article.

Four Seats left in JOFC! Our Summer session of the JOFC Workshop is meeting the week of June 13th in Madison, Wisconsin. Many participants who have attended this workshop have come away transformed in their view of facilitation and their behavior as leaders, facilitators, and as people in general. Even those with intermediate and advanced skills leave the workshop having been impacted both personally and professionally. I'd love to take this workshop journey with you as well if you feel so inclined. Sponsored through the University, the price for this training is very modest, and in addition, an early bird discount is available until May 9th . Click here for details and registration.

Attending this course helped me to understand the importance of facilitation skills in everything that I do,from leadership, to supervision, to participation. I have thought about things I learned in the course every day since the course ended.

Public Policy Facilitators Needed! One of our readers is looking for three contract facilitators, each with experience facilitating meetings with multiple federal agencies, including state and local governments and national committees/groups, on topics and issues involving national flood risk management and levee safety issues. This includes organizing workshops to facilitate related national policy discussions. Click here for details and contact info.

If you or your colleagues are interested in submitting an article for consideration, please email your ideas. I'd love to hear from you. We hope our work continues to bring inspiration to your world. Thank you for being a part of our growing community and please continue to send your wonderful feedback.


Steve Davis


assessment primer
journey of facilitation and collaboration

The Point

Taming the Groupies
Recognize the symptoms and solutions for collective delusion.

Group Process Skill

What is Groupthink?

The term was devised in the 1970s by the American psychologist Irving Janis, who analyzed group decision-making in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He defined group think as a form of decision-making characterized by uncritical acceptance of a prevailing point of view. It is a form of collective delusion, where bizarre policies are rationalized collectively and contradictory evidence is discredited. Members of the group suffer an illusion of both invulnerability and morality, and construct negative stereotypes of outsiders.

When Does Groupthink Occur? Group think is likely to occur when the following conditions exist:

  • When groups are highly cohesive.
  • Isolation of the group from outside influences.
  • Examining few alternatives.
  • Not being critical of each other's ideas.
  • Not examining early alternatives.
  • Not seeking expert opinion.
  • Being highly selective in gathering information.
  • Not having contingency plans.
  • Under considerable pressure to make a quality decision.
  • No systematic procedures for considering both the pros and cons of different courses of action.
  • With a directive leader who explicitly favors a particular course of action.

Symptoms of Groupthink.

  • Having an illusion of invulnerability, morality, and unanimity.
  • Collective rationalization of poor decisions.
  • Believing in the group's morality.
  • Pressure on dissenters.
  • Self-censorship of dissent.
  • Self-appointed mind guards.
  • Sharing stereotypes which guide the decision.
  • Not expressing your true feelings.
  • Maintaining an illusion of unanimity.
  • Using mindguards to protect the group from negative information.

Solutions to Groupthink Include:

  • Establish an open climate.
  • Leaders should remain impartial and avoid being too directive.
  • Using a policy-forming group which reports to the larger group.
  • Using different policy groups for different tasks.
  • Divide into groups and then discuss differences within the larger group.
  • Use outside experts.
  • Use a Devil's advocate to question all the group's ideas.
  • Hold a "second-chance meeting" to offer one last opportunity to choose another course of action.



Once you look beyond business, we are all victims of or willing participants in groupthink. Everything from religious dogmas to economic systems to political ideologies provide examples of groupthink on a macro or micro level.
We only get to see it and challenge it when the wheels fall off.

--Godfrey Parkin--

Examples of Groupthink. Here are some classic examples of groupthink on a world scale.

  • The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor kills more than 2,300 Americans.
  • 1,300 members of a CIA-supported force storms the beaches of Cuba.
  • The Challenger explosion claims the lives of all seven members of its crew.
  • U.S. intelligence community suffered from "collective group think" in its assessment of the threat poised by Saddam Hussein.

A classic example of Group think in the Kennedy administration.

In the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy's decision-makers were all in accord that the inhabitants of Cuba would rise up against Castro as soon as there was a sign of an armed invasion. So he helped train and finance a group of American/Cuban fighters and was prepared to then move in once there was a
widespread insurrection. It was a fiasco. But he learned a valuable lesson.

From that point on, when dealing with major decisions that had to be made, he saw to it that least one person was involved who was strongly opposed to the conventional wisdom so that he would always get different points of view. This approach was used in the Cuban missile crisis, where the group truly weighed several different alternatives. There was still a risk, but we went forward with eyes open and the results were much better.

Add Your Comments


Have you seen signs of groupthink in groups you're working with? What can you do about it?
lick on Add Your Comments to share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic.

This Week's Offer

consulting today
Article Collections

Here's a selection of practical articles by and for consultants, coaches, facilitators and their clients. Sharing our best ideas, models and tools is the way we serve our clients and the field in which we work. The energy and creativity of our authors brings outstanding value to these reports. A brief description of each report appears below.

Coaching Tools

The Foundations of Coaching

The coaching profession has its foundations in sports coaching, counseling, behavioral sciences, consulting, and more. These five authors explore the beginnings and rise of this discipline. Anyone who coaches should read these articles, and may want to share some of them with clients as well. More detail / order...

Coaching Tools

In this issue, you’ll find six articles that provide a wealth of tools you will use again and again in your coaching. The authors are seasoned and successful coaches who share the learnings of years of experience. What gets in the way of developing new habits? What are some specific skills the best coaches use well? What are the steps in coaching emotional intelligence? They’re all here. More detail / order...


Leading Organizational Change

In this collection, six authors provide important strategies for leading change in any organization. Share these four articles with partners in change management to help develop a consistent philosophy and style. Share them with clients to help clients understand their part in the change process. More detail / order...

Managing in a New World

In this collection, six authors offer perspectives on management issues in an information economy populated by a new breed of worker. Share these insights with any leader who is working to improve the way they, and their organization, manage the people of the new millennium.
More detail / order...

New Leaders — The First 100 Days

This issue offers five important articles for the new leader, focusing on the priorities and skills needed in the first few months of tenure in a new position. Share it with leaders at all levels as they begin a new challenge. More detail / order...

Non-Profit Consulting

Consulting With Non-profits

If you are consulting for non-profits, or considering it, this issue has important lessons from people who’ve been doing it for years. There’s information on how non-profits operate, their values, processes and priorities, what clients want, and how some non-profits deal with problems. There’s also guidance on how and why to use an interim executive director, and some advice for new and potential board members. More detail / order...

Strategic Consulting With Non-profits

This issue provides a variety of perspectives on doing strategic work with nonprofit organizations. There’s an article on how to run a strategic planning retreat. Or as an alternative to developing ‘the plan,’ we offer an article on how to teach the board to think strategically. There’s an article on what non-profit clients look for in a consultant, and one on how to address that gap between board ideas and staff action. Plus ideas from an international panel of consultants on working with non-profits using Future Search. More detail / order...

Project Management

Project Management

This issue focuses on resources for project managers — helping them plan for success in all their projects. Two of the articles focus on planning skills for managers of technical projects. The other three are applicable to all kinds of projects, including organizational change efforts. You’ll find these compact two-page articles will be powerful aids in training as well. More detail / order...


Strategic Marketing For Professionals

Here are five articles that overview marketing for professionals who provides intangible services. These articles offer ideas that help you design the strategy for your business. Use them to lay a foundation for your marketing effort, to provide an infusion of ideas and energy, or to get a few new hints that will provide a big payoff. More detail / order...

Marketing on a Budget

This issue offers ideas and tools for effective marketing that won’t drain the budget. The authors offer clever and creative twists on traditional strategies like networking, press releases, and mailing. And you’ll find a packet of great new ideas as well. These are ideas you can use at any stage in building your business, and energy generators for your marketing anytime.
More detail / order...

Whole System Change

Principles of Whole-System Change -

Whole-system change involves getting the entire system — a 20 person department, a 2500-person division, or representatives of an entire community — into one room for long enough to have a shared understanding of history, priorities and actions needed. It is changing the way organizational change is done. These articles explain the underlying principles of these methods. More detail / order...

Organizational Change

Leading Organizational Change

In this collection, six authors provide important strategies for leading change in any organization. Share these four articles with partners in change management to help develop a consistent philosophy and style. Share them with clients to help clients understand their part in the change process. More detail / order...

Tools for Organization Change

This collection offers seven articles providing a variety of tools used by consultants involved in organizational change. These tools include models like Weisbord’s Six Boxes and Bridges Transition Model, a process-change model, a communication plan for change projects, and some ideas for ways to mark important transitions. More detail / order...


Working With Teams

In this issue we bring you six articles on all aspects of teams, from the processes teams use to solve problems, to ground rules for task teams, to the critical success factors for virtual teams.
More detail / order...

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