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Can GroupThink result in poor decision making in strong open-source communities?

Posted by inder on February 5, 2007 at 11:24 PM PST

I recently came across a great article on GroupThink of Irving Janis. GroupThink is a behavior pattern that results in inferior decision making by a group of smart people when the cohesiveness of the group is too high. It happens because of a strong desire of the people to preserve the harmony in the group even if at the cost of better decision making.

Open-source projects are also typically run by groups of smart individuals who all have come together to solve a common problem. Sinc the team is working towards a shared goal, often voluntarily and to attain a higher ideal, the cohesiveness can be high. Moreover, for certain high-profile projects, the desire of the group members to remain associated with the group is strong because it gives them prestige and satisfaction due to the project's impact on the society.

As the article describes, cohesion in the group is a necessary but not sufficient condition for GroupThink. It also requires structural faults in the group because of poor leadership, lack of process and norms. Finally, for the group to slide into GroupThink, a provocative situational context needs to exist such as a recent failure, high stress or low self-esteem.

Have you seen an open-source group slide into GroupThink? Have you had experiences in an open-source project where the group collectively made some poor decisions just to preserve the group harmony? Share your thoughts as comments to this blog! Thanks for reading.

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