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Groupthink Essay

2245 words - 9 pages

Week Three Assignment
Jeffrey H Bowen
Averett University
Business Psychology PSY218
Instructor: Kathie Tune
August 12, 2014

On the morning of January 28, 1986, the nation watched as the ill-fated mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger 51-L, lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on NASA’s twenty fifth space shuttle mission. 73 seconds into the flight, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded into a ball of fire. As the events unfolded live on national television, questions began to surface on the reasons for the catastrophic failure almost immediately.
“The Challenger STS 51-L mission was commissioned to deploy the second Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and the Spartan ...view middle of the document...

However the Challenger incident also presented a flaw in organizational communication and ethics, including the ethics of organizational structure and culture as it promotes or discourages necessary communication and more importantly the ethics of groupthink.
It is critical to understand the definition and specific examples as well as the reasons why groupthink affected NASA and its employees during the time of the Challenger incident. Groupthink, is a concept developed by social psychologist Irving Janis. “Groupthink occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment. Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups.  A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making” (Janis, 1982). What were the signs that group loyalty caused NASA members to slip into a groupthink mentality? The eight symptoms of groupthink show a groupthink mentality did in fact affect the Challenger incident. The first two stem from overconfidence in the group’s overconfidence. The next pair reflect the tunnel vision members use to view the problem and the final four symptoms are signs of strong conformity pressure within the group: All, excepts below were taken directly from examples proposed in the Rogers Commission Report, 1986:
* “Illusion of Invulnerability.  Despite the launch pad fire that killed three astronauts in 1967 and the close call of Apollo 13, the American space program had never experienced an in-flight fatality. When engineers raised the possibility of catastrophic O-ring blow-by, NASA manager George Hardy nonchalantly pointed out that this risk was ‘‘true of every other flight we have had." Summarizes attitude as ‘‘everything is going to work out all right because we are a special group.

* Belief in Inherent Morality of the Group.  Under the sway of groupthink, members automatically assume the rightness of their cause. At the hearing, engineer Brian Russell noted that NASA managers had shifted the moral rules under which they operated: ‘‘I had the distinct feeling that we were in the position of having to prove that it was unsafe instead of the other way around.

* Collective Rationalization.  Despite the written policy that the O-ring seal was a critical failure point without backup, NASA manager George Hardy testified that ‘‘we were counting on the secondary O-ring to be the sealing O-ring under the worst case conditions." Apparently this was a shared misconception. NASA manager Lawrence Mulloy confirmed that ‘‘no one in the meeting questioned the fact that the secondary seal was capable and in position to seal during the early part of the ignition transient." This collective rationalization supported a mindset of ‘‘hear no evil,...

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