Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Group Support Systems: An Organization Development Intervention to Combat Groupthink

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Group Support Systems: An Organization Development Intervention to Combat Groupthink

Article excerpt


Decisions were made by Johnson's advisory group to escalate the war in Vietnam during the period from 1964 through 1967 despite strong warning from intelligence experts within the U.S. government, leaders of the United Nations, practically all of America's allies, and influential sectors of the American public. President Johnson's advisory group apparently ignored until too late the mounting signs that its decisions to escalate the war were having devastating political repercussions within the United States.

The "gung-ho, can-do" ethic of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration made it difficult to raise concerns about safety seals on the space shuttle's booster rockets. The sad result was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986 (Jania, 1989).

What do these decisions have in common? They have been cited as examples of groupthink (Janis, 1982, 1989). The groupthink problem, as identified by Janis (1982), refers to the propensity of groups to respond to interpersonal pressure in such a manner that group members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to analyze alternative courses of action realistically. Thus, groupthink refers to a defective mode of decision-making pursued by groups that emphasizes consensus rather than a careful analysis of options. This phenomenon increases the likelihood of poor decisions (Ibid.).

Organizational Development Techniques for Groupthink

Although Janis' Groupthink is heavily cited throughout group-focused research, it has had little impact on Organization Development (OD) diagnostic techniques and intervention designs (Taras, 1991). ODers seem to prefer interpersonal techniques. (An exception is a two pronged approach used in a Human Resources department (Golembiewski, 1990. An early focus on interaction shifted to a focus on changes in policies and procedures.) One survey of 45 companies engaged in OD-type activities indicated that 98 percent of these firms used participative methods in identifying and solving organizational problems (von Bergen and Kirk, 1978).

Unfortunately, ODers frequently fail to adopt Janis' recommendations for structural and procedural changes in groups. Further intervention strategies have not been developed for groups in the throes of groupthink. All groupthink "cures," including Janis', are ex post facto suggestions for preventing groupthink in the next round of decision-making (Taras, 1991). Group Support Systems (GSS) provide ODers procedural mechanisms to address this criticism and correct defective groupthink decision-making situations.

Group Support Systems

In his analysis of presidential decision-making, Alexander George (1980) notes that "ever-present constraints" often require the chief executive to consider "tradeoffs" in the his search for decisions of high quality in foreign affairs as well as in domestic policy. These constraints include limited time, lack of expertise and other policymaking resources for dealing with complex issues, need for acceptability and need for consensus. GSS offer the possibility of addressing such constraints simultaneously as time, insulation, and undesirable affiliative problems to achieve higher quality results.

GSS are an advanced information technology that combine communication, computer, and decision technologies to assist groups involved with collaborative work (Poole and DeSanctis, 1988). GSS structure the group decision process in three major ways: (1) focusing group members' efforts on the task or problem to be solved by the group; (2) equalizing group member participation; and (3) increasing consensus-reaching (Pinsonneault and Kraemer, 1989).

GSS researchers have demonstrated several advantages associated with GSS. They propose that GSS use may transform inefficient and ineffective group meeting processes associated with groupthink into more productive processes (Jessup, Connolly, and Galegher, 1990). …

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