Born in 1933, Swissair used to be called the “flying-bank”. Before his collapse, the company was well-established and seemed to be unstoppable. However, years have passed and more and more poor decisions and failed alliances have impacted the company and ensure his collapse. Before the fiasco, the size of the company board was reduced, subsequently eliminating industrial expertise. With the board members lacking expertise in the field and having somewhat similar background, norms, and values, the pressure to conform may have become more prominent.This phenomenon is called group homogeneity, which is an antecedent to groupthink. Together, these conditions may have contributed to the poor decision-making process that eventually led to Swissair’s collapse. Then, one of the main reason that the company lost his reputation and power started with the apparition of a groupthink phenomenon.
A groupthink is a phenomenon illustrated when people inside a team or a company are making decision leaded by desire for harmony or conformity in the team which results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.
According to Hussain and Rammal (2010, for a review), this phenomenon has been the origin of the company’s collapses. Indeed the company suffered with two main symptoms which were:”the belief that the group is invulnerable and the belief in the morality of the group” (Eadman, 2006). These two symptoms are often present in a groupthink phenomenon. However, in order to create a real groupthink, the company had also other issues. The group cohesion was more important than individual point of vue. With the reduction of the board, the lack of leadership started to impact the teams, leading them to groupthink. The failures that appeared just before this phenomenon, amplified the collapse.Alliance failures and poor decision-making were the triggers that have generate this groupthink phenomenon.
With this illusion implanted inside the company, nothing could stop the inevitable and Swissair collapsed.
As astonished as it is, one of the best cure of groupthink is conflict. Indeed, if conflict seems to have a negative effect on the group cohesion. It also has the ability to boost team. In the situation of swissair, the cohesion was blocking any alternatives, the company was eliminating the external environment in this decision-making process. Conflict exists because people have different perceptions, which provide a 360° analysis of the alternatives.
Another way to ensure cohesion without groupthink phenomenon is the implantation of social roles inside the team. Indeed, according to Mumford et al (2008, for a review), the social roles serve to keep efficiency inside a team. There are 3 roles to ensure this results. The cooperator role is the proactive role, his objectives is to support the team with expertise through the team’s goals. The communicator role is to analyze behaviors that are aiming the collaboration, such as practicing good listening skills and appropriately using humor to diffuse tense situations and improve team trust. The calibrator role is to keep the team efficient in terms of applying positive changes to the team’s process. In the case of Swissair, these solutions might have changed the present outcome. However, the company needed also a stronger leadership as the board had been reduced.
The company should have diversified his teams in terms of background, norms, and values. This change would have modified the ancient team’s structure. The results would have been conflicts but also a boost of the teams which would have been dynamic. Furthermore, with more diversified teams, everyone would have developed a role. From these roles, some would have take the social roles which serve to ensure efficiency, cohesion and results among the team.
This case study shows us that even the biggest firms can collapse. The market isn’t the only actor of the company’s success or failure. Teams inside the company are the heart of the company. If teams have a lack of leadership, and no individual roles, a phenomenon such as groupthink will appear. Leading to poor decision-making and failures which will lead to the collapse of the structure.