TIP #83 Groupthink Can Undermine Rationality in Board Decision-Making

August 1, 2022  |  tips for effective boards

In our last Tips for Effective Boards, we focused on the tendency of individuals towards irrationality. In this Tip our focus shifts to Groupthink, a group process phenomenon that undermines rational decision-making. 


Groupthink is a concept developed by Irving Janis, Victims of Groupthink (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972). Groupthink occurs when a shared desire for group cohesiveness and consensus prevents a group from objectively considering alternatives. Groupthink leads to group decisions that are ill-considered and may even be dangerous. Groups inclined towards Groupthink may be quite homogeneous with little demographic or ideological diversity. Members of such groups may feel a strong need to be accepted by the group and reluctant to present any viewpoint that might be different from a viewpoint held by other members of the group or a particularly strong and influential individual group member. In addition, such groups may have little interest in or opportunity to access information from outside the group.   


Tips for countering Groupthink include the following:

·         Promote constructive group cohesiveness,

·         Recruit board members with diverse backgrounds and experience,

·         Access perspectives and information from outside the boardroom,

·         Encourage widespread participation of board members in board meeting discussions,

·         Encourage an openness to learning from others,

·         Encourage, respect, and actively explore alternative viewpoints,

·         Develop a shared understanding of differing viewpoints,

·         Encourage board members to speak their position and let it go, not taking opposing viewpoints as a criticism,

·         Don’t rush to a decision, and

·         Establish official ground rules that incorporate expectations about board meeting process conducive to rational decision-making.

(More about how to do these in our next Tips for Effective Boards.)     


With respect to seeking information from outside the board, the Policy Governance® model places a strong priority on ongoing board communication with the organization’s key stakeholders which the Policy Governance® model calls the organization’s “ownership,” those people or groups of people on whose behalf the board governs and to whom the board has a legal or moral obligation to be accountable. In addition, the Policy Governance® model encourages a strong commitment to acquiring all sorts of information important for data-driven and future-focused decision-making.


In our next Tips for Effective Boards, we’ll offer specific suggestions for countering the individual and group factors that undermine rational board decision-making and for developing and nurturing a board culture that promotes rational board decision-making. 


To learn more about the Policy Governance® model, please click https://www.BoardsOnCourse.com/policy-governance.