Groupthink : Where all think alike — no one thinks very much

Vikram Karve
12 min readJan 8, 2024




Management Musings by Vikram Karve


Collective Decision-Making is the essence of Democracy.

Democratic Decision-Making is “Participative” in nature — not a “One-Man Show” — like in an Autocracy — where all power is concentrated in the hands of one person who takes all the decisions.

That is why — in a democracy — we have many committees/groups — to enable collective decision-making — after proper debate — and every effort is made to build a consensus.

However — dissent is valued in a democracy — and — in case there is no consensus — decisions are taken in a democratic manner by voting.

Sadly — we observe that — in many democracies — decisions are taken in a rather autocratic manner by the leader — despite the façade of democratic decision-making.

This happens because of the phenomenon of “Groupthink”.

“Groupthink” destroys Democratic Decision-Making — and facilitates Autocratic Decision-Making.

We see many examples of this — where Committees/Groups are merely a façade — and all decisions are taken in an autocratic manner by a single individual.

“Groupthink” has become increasingly active on the Social Media too.

We observe that the phenomenon of “Groupthink” is growing rapidly on the Social Media — especially on Twitter — where there is an increasing intolerance to contrarian or individualistic views — and — ideologically — the “Cult Culture” seems to be on the rise — and — anyone expressing a contrarian opinion is likely to be viciously trolled by the opposing “cult”.

The phenomenon of “Groupthink” has infected Politics — in fact — “Groupthink” has proliferated in many Organisations/Entities — especially in the Social Media.

This reminded me on an Article on “Groupthink” that I had written long ago.


Dear Reader:

Here is the article…



Food for Thought By Vikram Karve


Though “Groupthink” is not desirable in any organisation — it understandable in the Military.

The Military is supposed to have a “Yes Sir — Yes Sir — Three Bags Full Sir” regimented culture — where dissent is not tolerated — and expressing contrarian views is frowned upon.

Such a regimented environment is conducive to “Groupthink” — though — for optimal decision-making — “Groupthink” is not desirable even in the Military.


But — surprisingly — even the so-called “Democratic” Political Parties in India — they too seem to be victims of “Groupthink”

Yes — even Politics has succumbed to “Groupthink” (in a democracy where discussion and debate and participative and consultative decision-making should be the norm)

If you observe organisations — you will notice “Groupthink” prevailing everywhere.


(Management Musings By Vikram Karve)


I have written plenty of my “Humor in Uniform” Memoirs in my Blog.

So — for a change — let me delve into my “academic” writings — or — more precisely — my “management writing” archives — and post for you — once more — an abridged and updated version of an article on GROUPTHINK that I had written around 39 years ago — in the 1980’s — for a business supplement of a newspaper — and versions of my article on Groupthink have also been published in some journals.

The original article has been suitably revised, updated and edited for easy reading on digital screens.


I have lectured on this topic too.

After the advent of the internet — my article on GROUPTHINK has been carried by many websites — and once I started blogging around 25 years ago — I have posted this article on my blogs too.

Though I wrote this around 39 years ago in 1985 — I feel this article is relevant even today.

Do tell me if you feel GROUPTHINK exists even today — especially in government, political, organisational, familial and military decision-making.

I look forward to your views.




“Where all think alike — no one thinks very much


When I was in the Navy — I saw plenty of GROUPTHINK.

During my interactions with the Army — I saw even more Groupthink.

There was a tendency to have “unanimous” decisions.

In many cases — contrarian views were not tolerated by the top brass — and many senior officers wanted to force their decisions by creating a situation of “My Way or the Highway”.

Also — years of regimentation and discouragement of original thinking creates a “groupthink” mindset in most military officers.

I feel that Groupthink is one of the main reasons which hampers optimal decision making — especially in the defence services which have a highly regimented way of thinking.

Here is an abridged version of one of my management articles which tells you all about GROUPTHINK in a nutshell.




Tradition has it that conflict is bad.

Conflict is something to be avoided.

The culture of many organizations implies explicitly or implicitly that conflict should be suppressed and eliminated.

It is common for managers to perceive intra-organizational conflict as being dysfunctional for the achievement of organizational goals.

Most of us still cling to the idea that good managers resolve conflict.

Current thinking disputes this view.

In the absence of conflicting opinions, harmonious tranquil work groups are prone to becoming static, apathetic and unresponsive to pressures for change and innovation.

Work Groups and Teams, even Top Management, also risk the danger of becoming so self-satisfied, that dissenting views, which may offer important alternative information, are totally shut out.

In short, they fall victims to a syndrome called “GROUPTHINK”


In a study of public policy decision fiascoes — I.L. Janis identified “GROUPTHINK” as a major cause of poor decision making.


As he describes it:

“GROUPTHINK” occurs when decision makers who work closely together develop a high degree of solidarity that clouds their vision, leading them to suppress conflicting views and negative feelings about proposals, consciously or unconsciously.

A manifestation of the groupthink phenomenon is the staggering irrationality which can beset the thinking of the otherwise highly competent, intelligent, conscientious individuals when they begin acting as a group or team and this affects organisational effectiveness.




The net effect on the group is that it overestimates its power and morality, it creates pressures for uniformity and conformance, and its members become close-minded, living in ivory towers.

Some manifestations are the illusions of invulnerability and the encouragement to take great risks and to ignore the ethical or moral aspects of their decisions and actions.

This author has witnessed close-mindedness on the part of several managers which then permeated their teams.

One project manager took this to the extreme and in effect defined his environment as consisting of two kinds of people, either “friends” or “enemies”.


This syndrome is akin to the dialogue from the classic Movie Ben Hur — which I call the:

“You are either for me or you are against me” syndrome.


Like this Manager I observed many persons — especially some of my bosses — exhibited this FOR vs AGAINST syndrome:

“you are either for me — or — you are against me”


In other words — if you do not agree with me — I will presume that you are against me.


Dear Reader:

Don’t we see a similar FOR vs AGAINST situation in the Social Media where people get polarised depending on their views…?


Coming back to my story — this Boss said to his subordinates and peers:

“You are either “FOR ME” — or — You are “AGAINST ME”…”


Yes — it had become a Binary FOR or AGAINST situation.


“You are either “FOR ME”


You are “AGAINST ME”…”


All those who completely agreed with his favoured solutions and supported his project were “Friends”.

All others were “Enemies”.


Soon his entire project team was echoing similar sentiments having fallen victim to “GROUPTHINK” — resulting in unbending positions, heated arguments and subsequent lack of respect for anyone who disagreed with them.

The ultimate consequences can easily be guessed.




The symptoms of groupthink include:


(i) An illusion of invulnerability that becomes shared by most members of the group.

(ii) Collective attempts to ignore or rationalize away items of inconvenient information which might otherwise lead the group to reconsider shaky but cherished assumptions.

(iii) An unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, thus causing members to overlook the ethical consequences of their decisions.

(iv) Stereotyping the dissenters as either too evil for negotiation or too stupid and feeble to merit consideration.

(v) A shared illusion of unanimity in a majority viewpoint, augmented by the false assumption that silence means consent.

(vi) Self-appointed “mind-guards” to protect the group from adverse information that might shatter complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decision.




Not very surprisingly — it has been suggested that individuals most susceptible to groupthink will tend to be people who are fearful of disapproval and rejection and individuals who want to “conform”.

Conversely — an outspoken individualist who freely airs his views and opinions — if trapped in a groupthink situation — he runs the risk of being ejected by his colleagues if he fails to hold his tongue.










Firstly — because the CEO (or the “Boss”) dispenses all favours — his biggest problem is to avoid being treated like God.

Secondly — the “Boss” must avoid thinking that he is God.

Indeed — in many organizations — it is not easy to contradict or argue too vigorously with the boss.

Even when managers feel that they know more than a superior — they may suppress doubts because of career considerations.

FEAR — or — RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY — or — ADMIRATION for the boss — may make skeptics hesitate when confronted with a confident CEO or dominating superior.

This is less of a problem if the leader acts in the organization’s interests, possesses requisite soft skills, and has strong ethics and cognitive capabilities to make decisions.

However — if leaders do not force serious questioning — they will sometimes make mistakes and errors of judgement.

Colleagues and subordinates will become “yes-men” — and — “groupthink” will take over decision making.

And the dominant CEO may not discover his or her mistakes because fearful employees withhold information.


What can lower-level managers do about the boss who has lost touch with reality and seems to be driving the organization in the wrong direction…?

You can adopt three different strategies:

1. “Exit” (Leave the organization)

2. “Voice” (attempt to force changes from within)

3. “Loyalty” (accept things the way they are)


Each individual can evaluate the risks and benefits of each strategy.

However — if the organization is really on the wrong track — true loyalty requires you to make an attempt to communicate your reservations and concerns to the leader and you must voice your views (option 2)


Before you voice your contrarian opinion in a forceful manner — you may need to consider a few things.

1. Will the leader accept your frank and candid views even if they are contrarian opinions…?

2. Or — will your career suffer if you are outspoken…?

3. Is it best to “lump” whatever your superiors say and just do as you are told…?

4. Or — does this blind obedience culture cause too much stress in you and is it best for you to quit your job and exit such an organisation afflicted by the disease of groupthink…?


How can a confident, independent CEO avoid the pitfalls and temptations of absolute power?

The obvious (but difficult) answer is to make sure that power is never absolute, and surround oneself with other confident, independent people, and encourage dissension and debate on every decision.

In his autobiography A Soldier’s Story — General ON Bradley has exemplified this aspect in the decision-making style of General George C Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army in World War II, a dominant leader who was instrumental in the Allied Victory owing to his resolute management of the entire war effort.


After one week in office — General Marshall called all his staff officers to his office and admonished them:

“Gentlemen — I am disappointed in you.

You haven’t yet disagreed with a single decision I have made.

When you carry a paper in here — I want you to give me every reason you can think of as to why I should not approve it.

If — in spite of your objections — my decision is still to go ahead — then I’ll know I am right…”


General Marshall did not believe in Groupthink — but — he wanted to hear differing and contrarian views before taking a decision.

Like General Marshall — who did not encourage cronyism and groupthink — and — rather than search for views that might reinforce his own — a CEO should seek contrary opinions to avoid groupthink.

Some suggest using a Devil’s Advocate methodology for all major decisions — by assigning some individuals in all groups and teams — to argue against the dominant view.

In Politics too — a leader must have a Devils Advocate in his decision-making circle — as this will help the leader in taking balanced decisions after considering contrarian opinions.




This is a “groupthink” situation in which individuals or groups low in the hierarchy are powerful enough to do what they want, even when contrary to organizational objectives.

Such power may be based on specialized expertise or privileged access to information.

Parallel power can lead to groupthink in two ways.

Firstly, senior managers may accept ideas from lower-level managers that are not necessarily in the organizational interest, either because they have insufficient information to ask the right questions, or because opposition would not seem legitimate.

Secondly, top managers may make decisions without all the necessary information because subordinates do not provide it due to vested interests arising from misplaced loyalties to a limited function, department or team, rather than to the organization as a whole.

Such situations can be mitigated by ensuring that managers rotate between different units and positions.




When everyone in power instinctively shares the same opinion on an issue, the wise manager should be wary.

Natural unanimity groupthink results in an inward-looking organization detached from its environment.

Escape from this predicament almost certainly requires a fresh perspective that can come only from outside — by hiring new managers or appointing outside consultants.

A CEO may lay overemphasis on staff-line cooperation in the belief that the easiest way to ensure implementation is to recommend only those actions that the line managers agree with.

But this is not necessarily useful to an organization and may lead to mutual admiration and — ultimately — “natural unanimity groupthink”.

The effectiveness of staff — line dichotomy depends on maintaining a certain tension between the staff and the line managers. When the tension disappears — the staff may not be doing its job.




The key element in any strategy for avoiding groupthink is to instill checks and balances into the system.

Formally — this can be achieved through cross-functional teams, staff advisers, external consultants — or procedures like “devil’s advocacy”.

Informally — managers must learn to tolerate dissidence, criticism, contrary opinions, discussion, brainstorming and debate and encourage their colleagues to express doubts about proposals.

Propositions from various parts of the organization need to be treated transparently, equitably and consistently — in order to avoid groupthink.


In a nutshell — for effective decision making — and to prevent the dangers of GROUPTHINK — it is best to steer clear of yes-men, ego-massage, sycophancy and cronyism.



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All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, alumnus IIT Delhi, Lawrence School Lovedale, Vikram Karve is a retired Navy Officer turned full time Writer and Blogger