Group cohesion vs “groupthink”

September 5, 2016 — Leave a comment

As leaders, we always strive for cohesion in a group. Whether you are putting a team together or trying to form a small group, the rule of thumb is to maximize cohesion. The more cohesive a group, the more effective it can work on tasks or deliver the required outcome.

Generally speaking, the five factors in “group dynamics” that influence cohesion, is:

  • Stability– The longer a group is together with the same members, the more cohesive the group will be.
  • Similarity– The more similar the group members are in terms of age, race, sex, education level etc, the more cohesive the group will be.
  • Size– Cohesion develops quicker in small groups than in large group.
  • Support– If individual team members have mentors or supporting leaders who provide input and encouragement to support one another, the team as a whole will be more cohesive.
  • Satisfaction– The more satisfied team members are with each others performance, output or work ethics, the more cohesive the team will be.

So, the more cohesive a group, the better . . . or is it? There comes a time when cohesion can actually lead to something social psychologists call “groupthink“. Groupthink is when a group value harmony above critical thinking. Consensus becomes more important than allowing alternative viewpoints. Sure, the group will say that they tolerate differences, but unknowingly they follow the leader(s) unquestioningly. The unwritten group dynamic is to discourage disagreement. Controversial issues are avoided and individuals will feel they do not have the freedom to ask questions. They will even start to act against their better judgement and loose their uniqueness,

This is actually scary for me, because as a church leader I often emphasize the importance of coherence. Unity, is after all a Biblical command.

The problem with groupthink is that there is a loss of creativity. And in a world where we desperately need creativity to solve the problems face, the loss of critical thinking is the last thing we can afford.

A further problem of groupthink is that the group does not realize the phenomenon’s presence, until it is too late. The group will typically have an inflated sense of their own abilities, knowledge, behavior or products. This is called the “illusion of invulnerability“.

Not only does groupthink lead the “in-group” to underrate the “out-group“, but it can even cause the “in-group” to demonize the “out-group“, resulting in the acceptance of actions against people that would otherwise be frowned upon.

I have seen groupthink at play in the Church arena on numerous occasions. In fact, I think it is bigger threat than the lack of cohesion. Groupthink – “the way things are done around here” – is what holds many a congregation back from meaningful change.

So, without diminishing the value of group cohesion, let us be aware of the danger of groupthink. I’d say that as leaders, we ought to constantly ask ourselves what group dynamic is present in our context.


Ask yourself if your group is currently more prone to cohesion or to groupthink. Whatever your answer might be, work towards the other…


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