We all know how important harmony is for the well being of a lodge. It would have to be pretty bad for the Deacons to be called upon the carry out their special duty. Harmony is facilitated by there being a ready acquiescence in all votes and resolutions duly passed by the majority of the brethren and by a perfect submission to the will of the Master and his Wardens whilst acting in the discharge of the duties of their respective offices. So if there is disharmony within a lodge or if the lodge itself is estranged from the fraternity and society what could have happened?
It could be that the Wisdom of Solomon has not have blessed the occupant of the Chair with the people around him who allow “Groupthink” to prevail. The term was coined in 1952. Irving Janus identified its principal characteristics in 1972. According to Janus it can occur where there is very directive style of leadership and “top down” management; there is homogeneity of members' social background and ideology as we can see in Freemasonry, and the isolation of the group – the lodge, board, committee, etc from outside sources of information and analysis. Some of the worst decisions in history have been attributed to its occurrence.
The theory is that it occurs when the members are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision. Usually all alternatives are not considered, members are not critical of each other’s ideas, they do not seek expert opinion, they are highly selective in gathering information and they do not have contingency plans. The result is the absence of a quality decision.
Janus found that the body will have an illusion of invulnerability and ignore obvious danger, take extreme risk, and are overly optimistic. Poor decisions will be rationalized as they do not believe that they will ever be questioned. It will believe in its own behaviour and morality ignoring the ethical consequences of their decisions. It will set its own standards to judge decisions, put direct pressure on non-conforming members and where members withhold their dissenting views and counter-arguments, and maintain an illusion of unanimity. There will be an attempt to insulate members from negative feedback. Dissenting parties will be stereotyped as un-Australian, un-Masonic, idiots, trouble makers and so on and not taken seriously.
There can be planning which militates against Groupthink. The boss remains aloof from the deliberations and impartial. The work is done in a committee or working party that reports to a Steering Committee. The work is broken into different tasks and done by different people. External consultants are engaged. Unpopular alternatives are considered. The Devil's Advocate role is assigned to several strong members of the group. A sizable amount of time is spent surveying all warning signals from opposing groups and organizations. Secrecy is avoided. No place is allowed for big egos.
Continued harmony in Lodge Devotion is important. However, if we have cohesion and conformity to the extent where it leads to Groupthink we have a serious problem. I am sure that you will identify instances of Groupthink in your own experience and have seen the resultant failure. You know the old story – a camel is a horse designed by a (Groupthink?) committee.
Fraternal best wishes to all
The above appeared in Devotion News Sept-Oct 2008. Eleven years on, we have just published Devotion News Aug 2019 – Sept 2019 and Groupthink is still on our mind. In the recent edition another writer offered;
Eight "symptoms" that indicate Groupthink
Groupthink is a term first used in 1972 by social psychologist Irving L. Janis. It refers to a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group which leads to faulty decision making. Some people claim that Grand Lodges, and Freemasonry in general, are particularly susceptible to Groupthink. Janis identified eight different "symptoms" that indicate Groupthink:
1. Illusions of invulnerability lead members of the group to be overly optimistic and engage in risk-taking.
2. Unquestioned beliefs lead members to ignore possible moral problems and ignore the consequences of individual and group actions.
3. Rationalizing prevents members from reconsidering their beliefs and causes them to ignore warning signs.
4. Stereotyping leads members of the in-group to ignore or even demonize out-group members who may oppose or challenge the group's ideas.
5. Self-censorship causes people who might have doubts to hide their fears or misgivings.
6. "Mindguards" act as self-appointed censors to hide problematic information from the group.
7. Illusions of unanimity lead members to believe that everyone is in agreement and feels the same way.
8. Direct pressure to conform is often placed on members who pose questions, and those who question the group are often seen as disloyal or traitorous.