The dark side of group cohesion and social capital.

What?  As evidenced by our readings, social capital and team cohesion can lead to greater collaboration which, in turn, can improve team performance (Franz, 2012; Zornoza, Orengo, & Peñarroja, 2009).  It is clear that team cohesion and social capital develops over time and through interaction.  Although our authors focus on the positive aspects of cohesion and social capital; I would argue that team cohesion and the collective social capital can also lead to negative consequences.  For example, Franz (2012) mentions groupthink as a negative consequence or faulty process associated with team cohesion.

So what?  A president’s cabinet certainly interacts frequently which provides the foundation for cohesion and social capital development.  However, I would argue that when a cabinet or any team for that matter develops into highly cohesive teams there is potential groupthink, which can lead to poor decision-making.  In my opinion, one example of group think was our march to war in Iraq.  Individuals in the Bush cabinet were an extremely cohesive team, so much so that they became more preoccupied with destroying others who questioned their rationale for war rather than listening to differing viewpoints, and as a result our nation entered into a war under false pretenses.

cabinet

Another example would be the financial crisis of 2009.  Teams of top bank executives were so strongly bonded (social capital) around profits that it led to very poor decisions and the collapse of the financial industry. What is more, Franz (2012) writes “If cohesive groups make a poor decision, they are likely to stick with it longer” (p. 197).

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Now what?  By avoiding groupthink teams can avoid having to stick with these poor decisions.     Groupthink is obviously prevalent in our society and this phenomenon was further explicated by our previous reading by Funk & Kulik (2011) and their explanation of the characteristics and negative consequences associated with late stage teams.  Some would argue that my examples are flawed and good decisions were made in these situations.  However, I think these examples provide valuable information in that team leaders and members need to be reflexive when making decisions especially in groups with high cohesion and social capital.   One way to be reflexive is to seek out several sources of information (including outside of the team) and encourage varying opinions. Although cohesion and social capital can provide many benefits and improve team performance, equal consideration should be given to the negative aspects or the “dark side” of these constructs.  Becoming reflexive can help raising our awareness of groupthink and hopefully lead us to better decision-making processes.

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