Fear, organizational learning, and groupthink in the small work group

David Stephen Celmer, Fordham University


The purpose of this study was to investigate the inhibitory role of fear on small group problem-solving within Janis's groupthink theoretical context. The study was conducted in real-time with participants who were actively engaged in solving problems of significant consequence to their organization. Previous groupthink research done outside of the laboratory has typically relied on reconstructed accounts of group behavior. Special focus was directed to four of Janis's eight groupthink symptoms—self-censorship, shared illusion of unanimity, direct pressure, and self-appointed mindguards since they are most associated with the element of fear. Janis's groupthink model was also examined with regard to its diagnostic utility for assessing small-group problem-solving effectiveness. The research participants included a group of 8 faculty members serving in a strategic planning and advisory capacity within the graduate school of a large urban university. Qualitative research methodology was utilized for data collection. The group's overall success was evaluated by comparing its processes and output to the eight key learning organization constructs. While the study did not yield evidence of fear related to classical groupthink phenomena, the debilitating influence of fear on small group performance was reinforced. Janis's groupthink model was also determined to be an incomplete and insufficient diagnostic framework for the assessment of overall small group functioning. Several technical challenges related to the study of Janis's groupthink model along with suggested areas for further research are also explored.

Subject Area

Occupational psychology|Organizational behavior|Organization theory

Recommended Citation

Celmer, David Stephen, "Fear, organizational learning, and groupthink in the small work group" (2007). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3264644.