How to prevent groupthink

MZUZU UNIVERSITY
FACULTY OF EDUCATION
DEPARTMENT OFEDUCATION AND TEACHING STUDIES
ASIGNMENT NUMBER TWO

FROM : FRANCES SIMWINGA
REG. NUMBER : BAE/2A/169/10
TO : DR. D.M. NDENGU (PhD)
COURSE : SOCIAL PSCHOLOGY
COURSE CODE : ETS 3502
TASK : MOST OF THE DECISIONS MADE AT MEETINGS CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO GROUPTHINK. FROM WHAT YOU HAVE READ IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, HOW DOES GROUPTHINK AFFECT DECISION MAKING IN AN ORGANISATION THAT YOU KNOW?

DUE: 14th JUNE, 2013.
HOW DOES GROUPTHINK AFFECT DECISION MAKING IN AN ORGANASATION. Colman(2001) in a dictionary of psychology defines groupthink as “ a collective pattern of defensive avoidance , characteristic of a group decision making in organisations in which group members develop rationalisations in supporting illusions of their own infallibility and invulnerability within the organisation .”p. 318. It entails that there is more of concurrence than critical thinking when making decisions in an organisation. This article will discuss how groupthink can affect decision making in an organisation such as school, political party and airtel (Business Company). Groupthink can cause poor performance or even failure to achieve the organisations objectives. Its tendency of seeking concurrence can for example make a wrong decision triumph (Shepherd, 1964). For instance, a cafeteria committee can change the supplier of food stuffs. If the group does not objectively consider the decision may end up selecting poor food stuffs that may be unhealthy to the students. Coon and Mitterer (2007) state that the urge to make such decisions may arise from the need to maintain others approval even at the cost of critical thinking. In apolitical party groupthink results in poor allocation of resources. For example, parties spend a great deal of resources of University Party Wings at.

Bibliography: Abercrombie, M. L. J. (1980). “Small groups.” In Foss, M.B. (1980). New horizons in psychology. London: Penguin Books.
Bernstein, A.D. and Nash, W.P. (2008). Essentials of psychology 4th Ed. I Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company
Brown, R
Colman, A.M. (2001). A dictionary of psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Coon, D. And Mitterer, O. (2007). An introduction to psychology: gateways to mind and behaviour. Belmont: Wadsworth.
Gage, N.L. and Berliner, C.D. (1998). Educational psychology 6th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Groupthink University of Twente. Retrieved on 27 May, 2013 from http://www.utwente.nl/cw/theorieenoverzicht/theoryclusters/organizationalcommunic ation/groupthink.doc/[->0]
Levine, M.J
Pligt, J. (1996). “Judgement and decision making.” In Semin, R.G. and Fiedler, K. Eds. (1996). Applied social psychology. London: Sage Publications Limited.
Shepherd, R.C. (1964). Small groups: Some sociological perspectives. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company.
Weiten, W. (2007). Psychology: themes and variations 7th
Whyte, G

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Groupthink. A good thing or a bad thing? (5th entry)

How to prevent groupthink

Groupthink.
The cartoon illustration above gives you an idea as to what group think refers to. Irving Jarvis defines groupthink as “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action”

The URL above is a link to an article which lists the 8 symptoms of groupthink.
They are basically:
1) Illusion of invulnerability
2) Believe in group’s own morality
3) Shared stereotypes
4) Collective rationalisation
5) Self censorship
6) Illusion of unanimity
7) Pressure on dissenters
8) Mind-guards

There are loads of examples and situations where groupthink exists.

The link above provides a few examples of groupthink. I think the thing that is most interesting about this particular write up is that the author seemed to equate groupthink to intellectual laziness. While I do not think that groupthink can ALWAYS be equated to intellectualy laziness, it definitely does hold some truth when one is talking about groupthink in terms of everyday life in the social context. The write-up talks about a mini experiment carried out to prove the existence of groupthink.

“The experiment is very simple. A group of 10 college students were recruited to perform a taste test on a new yogurt. They were asked to determine the new flavor of this yogurt. However, unknown to the test subject, 9 of the 10 students are part of the experiment. They were told to repeat a predetermined response when asked about the taste. Only the one test subject was the actual unknown. When given the yogurt to taste, each was asked to give their impressions. The test subject was to go last.
The yogurt given was strawberry flavored (but not made known to the test subject).

After hearing the responses of the other 9 subjects claiming to taste vanilla instead of Strawberry, the test subject in 8 out of 10 cases went with the majority and said he tasted vanilla instead of saying it is strawberry. When repeated with many subjects, only about 20% of the subjects stuck to their guns.”

In these sort of scenarios, groupthink does show a sense of intellectual laziness, but the effects of adhering to group think is generally harmless. However, there are instances when groupthink can prove to be very harmful and dangerous. One of these instances would be when religious extremists adhere to the groupthink phenomenon. Take Islamic terrorists as an example. The illusion of invulnerability makes them fearless and the belief in the group’s own morallity, their shared stereotypes and their collective rationalisation not only makes them feel more bonded, but it also somewhat validates their views and the actions that they feel are necessary in order to support their cause. In other words, it only servers to encourage the use of violence to get their message across.

Groupthink does not always have to necessarily have to be considered a bad thing. However, the members of the group have to be open to alternative decisions and raviews and they should always be aware of the spymptoms of groupthink, and there should always be a devil’s advocate in order to provide alternatives perspectives for the group.

Take your team off autopilot.

“Groupthink” is a dynamic wherein members of a team see the world through a biased, narrow lens, reach premature conclusions, and make bad decisions. In 1973, Yale psychologist Irving Janis began exploring the concept of Groupthink by researching the chain of events involved in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, where U.S.-trained and equipped soldiers attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro’s Cuban government.

As Janis put it, “Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures.” Kennedy wanted to overthrow Castro and his subordinates knew it—which meant that they, as a group, were not acting and thinking as intelligently as they could be. Instead, they jumped to conclusions and then moved forward without an openness to new information and without considering changes in direction. By directly involving himself in the decision making, Kennedy caused his subordinates to come up with a plan that pleased him rather than one that made the most strategic sense. The result, as history shows us, was a disaster and quickly put the U.S. on a course to go to war with Russia.

Fortunately, President Kennedy proved capable of learning from his mistakes as his actions in the wake of the next major crisis that occurred on his watch, The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, prove. Knowing that the survival of the nation, and the world, depended on the decisions and actions he took, Kennedy—unlike what he did the year before—decided to try and get as much information and to identify as many different courses of action as possible.

So, he convened an Executive Committee of the National Security Council, or EXCOMM, composed of Vice President Lyndon Johnson, his brother Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney General, and other members of his cabinet. He gave the EXCOMM time to explore and present various courses of action, then recused himself from the process so as not to bias it by being presented with choices the EXCOMM members might have thought he favored.

Robert Kennedy took on the role of Devil’s Advocate and was tasked with vigorously arguing against contemplated courses of action in order to force the group to discuss and debate the contingent merits of different strategies. The end result, thankfully, was a good group process that led to successful outcomes. By making well-considered moves, President Kennedy influenced his Russian counterpart, Premier Nikita Khrushchev, to tone down the crisis. Together, they took steps to improve relations between the two countries such as by establishing a direct telephone connection or hotline where the leaders of the two countries could get in immediate contact with each other.

Leaders at any level of any kind of organization can learn from this case study. Sometimes, the best thing a leader can do to prevent groupthink is to take a step back from his or her team and allow the group to reach its own independent consensus before making a final decision. Leaders can also be helpful by encouraging the members of the group to speak their minds openly so that different perspectives are discussed and debated.

How to prevent groupthink

Why is Groupthink Bad?

Groupthink is a tricky concept. Irving Janis , a social psychologist credited as the first to develop the idea, defined it as a “psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group.” At first Janis’ take on groupthink doesn’t seem so bad. After all, isn’t the point of meeting to gather folks together to come to an agreed upon decision about what needs to be done?

However, Dictionary.com defines groupthink as “the practice of approaching problems or issues as matters that are best dealt with by consensus of a group rather than by individuals; conformity.” Ah, there’s the rub. Tucked behind the semicolon is a one-word definition of groupthink that captures in totality precisely what’s wrong with this phenomenon: conformity.

Just when you thought that conformity was a malady restricted primarily to high schools and suburban neighborhood associations, it rears its ugly head in the conference room, creating an army of clones at your workplace.

What does groupthink look like in the modern workplace?

Groupthink typically happens in a workplace culture where employees fear having an opinion that differs from the ruling majority. In some cases the fear is due to an employee’s own insecurities and his/her desire to fit-in with the group.

In other cases, leadership has cultivated a culture of fear by playing favorites with various employees, groups and departments, and/or surrounding themselves with “like-minded” people. Environments where groupthink thrives typically value harmony and avoid conflict, but the trouble with that approach is that there can be no critical evaluation of ideas and solutions without considering different opinions from those within, as well as those outside a group.

Psychology textbook author, Kendra Cherry, stated in a recent article on groupthink, “The suppression of individual opinions and creative thought can lead to poor decision-making and inefficient problem-solving.” The good news is there are steps you can take to address and overcome this challenge, but first we’ll examine how to know whether or not your meeting is going great or going toward groupthink.

What are the key symptoms of groupthink?

In his extensive research on groupthink, Janis developed a checklist of eight symptoms that your group is united as one, and not in a good way. They are:

  1. Group cohesiveness is viewed as more important than individual freedom of expression
  2. The group operates in an insulated atmosphere
  3. Group leaders demonstrate impartial behavior
  4. There is no standard method in place for evaluating ideas and decisions
  5. Members’ social backgrounds and ideology are homogenous
  6. The group is under a lot of stress to perform
  7. The group has experienced recent failures
  8. There is excessive difficulty placed on the task of making a decision, such as a moral dilemma

How to Avoid Groupthink? There’s an 8-Step program for that

If during your meetings , you notice your group displaying any of the aforementioned symptoms, don’t panic; Janis also developed eight steps you can take to help avoid groupthink and prevent killing critical thinking and creative problem-solving in your group. Here are some steps on how to eliminate groupthink and avoid it altogether.

Step 1: Require everyone in the group to evaluate ideas critically:
This step is easily performed by asking everyone in the group to take a quiet moment to jot down both pros and cons of ideas that have been submitted before they are discussed. If you are still worried about employees feeling free enough to express themselves you can use a polling app that allows people in the group to vote or comment on topics anonymously.

Step 2: If you’re leading the group, keep your opinions to yourself:
The trouble with being a leader is that your opinions have a big influence on others and timid employees will think twice before dissenting with your opinion or submitting an idea that is better than yours. If your opinions lead a discussion, you will invariably miss great opportunities to discover individual talents and strengths in your group that may prove critical to future successes.

Step 3: If you’re the group leader, consider being a no-show:
Because body language is nearly impossible to hide, you don’t have to say anything for people in the group to know how you feel about a topic, so don’t give them the opportunity. Let members know you value their ideas so much that you plan to be absent from certain group meetings where your presence will excessively influence the outcome.

Step 4: Consider a team approach:
If your group is large, consider randomly dividing folks into smaller groups to work on the same problem. Not only does this approach foster camaraderie between employees, it fuels a competitive atmosphere where the best ideas can win.

Step 5: Thoroughly examine all alternatives:
Once your group has compiled a list of ideas or solutions, submit those ideas to a standardized method of evaluation that answers questions such as: How does this idea support the goal? What are the costs? What are the risks? Etc.

Step 6: Get an outsider’s perspective:
As your group begins evaluating various ideas and solutions, assign each member a task of getting an outsider’s opinion. If the solutions being discussed are sensitive, then ask them to talk to a specific and trusted leader inside the company.

Step 7: Consult an outside expert:
If a project or solution has components that run outside the expertise of the group, consider inviting an outside expert to a meeting to participate in the discussion of the group’s proposed solutions. Outsiders often provide a refreshing change to group dynamics, and expert opinions enable everyone in the group to learn from an expert’s insights and wisdom.

Step 8: Select one person at random to be the devil’s advocate at each meeting:
Once meeting attendees are all present, draw straws to see who will serve as the devil’s advocate for the meeting. The person who is chosen will be charged with “thinking like an enemy” and countering all popular ideas and opinions in the meeting in order to encourage healthy debate and test the strength of opposing arguments.

Take meetings one step further:
Now that you know the signs of groupthink and how to avoid its creativity draining presence in your meetings, you’re one step closer to holding the kind of highly productive meetings where employees feel free to submit their best ideas. But don’t forget face-to-face communication – a crucial component in executing some of the major steps to avoid groupthink. So go ahead, kick groupthink to the curb and give yourself a Highfive . We hope you enjoyed our tips on how to eliminate groupthink!

When you’re the new boss, it feels great to have employees agree with your decisions. But, agreement isn’t always a good thing, as one of my clients found out.

“John” was new in his director-level role and needed to quickly assess several situations and make some decisions. During one meeting in particular, employees seemed to be paying close attention to the discussion. John was feeling especially good because, once two employees spoke up in agreement with his decision, the rest of those in the meeting seemed to easily go along with how to move forward.

Weeks later, it turned out that John had been missing key pieces of information that would have made a difference in his decision. “I don’t get it. They all sat there nodding their heads in agreement,” John explained. “Yet today I found out that a few people weren’t comfortable with my recommendation and had information that would have been helpful. Had I seen the information they had, I wouldn’t have made that decision.”

What John experienced is known as “groupthink” – it’s when members of a group yield to the consensus or to the most vocal participants (such as a new boss) and fail to consider all the potential options and consequences.

Gallery: When You’re More Qualified Than The Boss

In John’s situation, it happened because employees were afraid to speak out against their new boss’s decision. Groupthink can also occur when others question their loyalty when they speak out against the topic or direction (peer pressure), when the group is overly optimistic, when ethical considerations are ignored, or when stereotypes are used instead of facts and research.

Groupthink can have negative consequences (as John found out), because it can lead to poor or even disastrous decisions. By understanding what groupthink is, recognizing the symptoms, and by taking proactive actions, you can help make sure groupthink never occurs on your watch. Here’s how:

Increase awareness. The first step toward prevention is to make people aware of what groupthink is, as well as how and why it can occur.

Engage in open discussions. Create a culture where employees are encouraged to critically analyze situations and proactively share information and provide feedback.

Don’t shoot the messenger. As part of the process of engaging in open discussions, avoid criticizing anyone who speaks out with alternative opinions. Model the art of critical listening skills.

Assign a “devil’s advocate.” Ask one or more team members to play the role of devil’s advocate to ensure all sides of a topic are explored and discussed. Or, divide the group into two and ask one team to present the pros and the other team to present the cons of each option.

Bring in subject matter experts (SMEs). When the topic is of high importance, internal or external subject matter experts can help ensure a full understanding of all angles, consequences and options/alternatives.

Document the decision. Once a decision has been reached, have team members briefly document the information:

• The current situation and associated problems

• All possible solution options and an analysis of each option

• The recommended solution and why it was chosen

• A high-level implementation plan, timeline and budget

Optional: Obtain feedback from a different team. If you’re still feeling uncomfortable about the decision after this process, you could ask a different team to review the information and provide feedback.

Groupthink is what happens when the desire to have harmony and consensus discourages healthy dissent during the decision-making process. In other words, when individuals fear rocking the boat, they don’t voice their disagreement – even if they know they should. The results can be disastrous.

Consider the failure to anticipate Pearl Harbor, the escalation of the Vietnam War and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. All are examples of groupthink at its worst. The phenomenon is also common in the business world, and has undone many successful companies.

Too much conformity clouds the decision-making process and offers only a one-sided perspective to issues that require complex consideration. Here’s how to avoid groupthink so that it doesn’t hurt your business.

1. The loudest, not the best, decisions win

In group meetings, often those with the loudest and strongest voices get their way. More reserved employees don’t speak up as much. Teams usually pick decisions communicated the boldest and most passionately. Unfortunately, the loudest decisions aren’t always the best decisions.

2. Consensus masks apathy

Sometimes employees go along just to get along. They may not care about the issue at hand at all, but agree to a decision to end the meeting, or because they believe their input won’t make a difference. With little resistance, leaders can easily push through decisions. On the surface, these decisions appear unanimous, but they should give business leaders pause. Why aren’t your employees contributing fully to discussions? If they don’t care about the decision-making process, they may not be invested in your company’s growth or success. And that can show up in their performance or customer service.

3. Groupthink leads to blame

When employees feel pressure for consensus, no one individual feels that they own the decision. If it fails, “It’s not my fault,” and the finger-pointing begins. That’s what happened to a business leader I advised, a strong, persuasive individual. He had launched a program to improve employee morale, and believed he had everyone’s support, despite seeking little input from his executive team. But when the initiative failed, his employees quickly blamed him for its failure, and morale sunk to new depths. The episode generated mistrust and ill will that was hard to overcome.

Is your company vulnerable to groupthink?

To find out, use your eyes, ears and your gut to assess your team’s current level of engagement and morale. Here are some warning signs to take into consideration and help you avoid groupthink.

1. Recent success

Everything is going great, maybe too great. Your team might be afraid to float new ideas or initiatives that could threaten the status quo and result in failure. Complacency is a common side effect of groupthink, and can significantly stall your company’s growth.

2. Lack of diversity

Scan the room at your next meeting. If everyone in the room shares the same experience and background, that should raise a red flag. Who’s missing? For example, it would be a mistake to leave millennials out of key decisions just because they don’t have as much experience as more seasoned employees. By excluding others with different viewpoints, there’s a danger you’re closing yourself off to new ideas and becoming safer – too safe.

3. A climate of fear

Do your employees seem comfortable with each other? Are meetings collaborative affairs, in which employees smile and make frequent eye contact with each other? Or do they clam up and barely look up from their phones when decision time comes? Employees won’t share their ideas if they’re afraid they will be disciplined, or even lose their jobs, by expressing opinions counter to the mainstream company dogma.

4. An intimidating leader

It’s true that business leaders should project confidence in their abilities to succeed. But acting like you know it all will only shut down alternative points of view. Are you ever vulnerable and open to discussion, or do you feel the need to be right at all costs?

How to discourage groupthink

The habit of groupthink can be hard to break, but with these strategies, you can avoid groupthink and the negative effect it can have on your company.

Create a sharing environment

Smart business leaders take care to cultivate a company culture of support and trust that welcomes ideas of all types. To do that, make sure your decision-making process does the following to help avoid groupthink:

  • Includes participation from all employees involved in the decision
  • Introduces alternative viewpoints for discussion
  • Rewards employees for vocalizing opinions outside the norm
  • Examines the risks and benefits of more than one option or plan
  • Encourages constructive dissent as a healthy part of the discussion
  • Analyzes information objectively
  • Includes information from outside sources when necessary, for additional objectivity
  • Shows the team that the leader can be vulnerable and may not always have the best answers

Assess your communication style

If you typically make decisions in a group setting with louder people having the most input, and notice others aren’t speaking up, offer to engage them separately in a one-on-one meeting. Showing that you value different communication styles speaks volumes to employees, and encourages them to open up.

Embrace your inner contrarian

For clarity on a decision, a leader should be able to argue both sides. Test the group. If they’re swimming one way, see what they think of the opposite point of view. Don’t be afraid to explore alternatives, and for the discussion to become heated. A little conflict can help reveal pros and cons that otherwise might be ignored.

Stay the course

To avoid groupthink in the future, continue to question assumptions, reward out-of-the-box ideas, and make sure your team stays hungry for progress, even after you’ve had a taste at success. These tactics will help your team meet challenges with open minds and avoid making bad decisions.

Groupthink is a familiar manifestation of the inertia of no.

How to prevent groupthink

Groupthink is a familiar manifestation of the inertia of no. It’s easier to see other people get hoodwinked by groupthink than it is to identify it in our midst.

Groupthink Defined

Irving Janis coined the term “groupthink” in the early 1970s. He actually modeled the term after George Orwell’s depiction of creepy “newspeak” in his classic book 1984. In 1984, the central powers that were monitoring all people maintained a deliberate program to delete certain words from the common vocabulary to discourage free thought.

Groupthink has a similar effect, but Janis was clear that groupthink is a “non-deliberate suppression of critical thought as a result of internalization of the group’s norms.” As groups experience more internal unity, the risk of groupthink increases; people don’t want to make waves that might jeopardize that feeling of belonging.

An Ugly Groupthink Story

Many years ago when I was working with a school, I encountered the most deleterious form of groupthink that I’ve experienced. As individuals, the teachers were lovely and open to creativity. But when they got into a group, some ugly norms began to rear their heads. I sat with a group of teachers at lunch one day, and almost immediately they began to gossip about their students—especially those who were different or more challenging to teach.

I honestly couldn’t believe my ears. I’ve been a teacher and know that educators are under so much stress and sometimes need to let off steam about a particular kid or discuss challenges with colleagues to get new ideas to handle situations. But this was beyond the pale. I was so sad for these kids, not only because I have a soft spot for outlier learners (it’s so often creativity that causes them to be so!), but because the teachers were so stuck in the muck of the inertia of no. Their line of conversation, in effect, said that these kids had no possibilities in store. As a result, every day all day long, the students were trying to learn in an environment that reinforced the conclusion that they were bad or broken, instead of one that supported new ways to understand or engage them.

Groupthink Participants as Victims

I truly believe that if they had thought about it critically, the teachers involved in the lunchtime gossip would have been horrified at their participation in these conversations. That’s why Janis referred to “victims” of groupthink. In this case, teachers were almost tricked into participating in this insidious cultural norm that damaged their purpose in being there in the first place.

Groupthink Shames the “Other”

When I brought in a new perspective—and there were new perspectives that could have made improvements—I faced a stony silence. I felt the effect that Janis studied, which showed that even when people in tight groups are kind to each other, they can be cold-hearted when dealing with out-groups.

By offering up a new possibility that diverged from the group’s conclusions, I was in the out-group with the nonconforming kids. It’s not a comfortable place to be for anyone, which is why we are so often susceptible to the inertia of no. Yet, I’d still like to think that even just one receptive teacher gained a new idea from my divergence that helped break through it.

Divergent Thinking Conquers Groupthink

Divergent thinking is essential in all industries, including the investment management business. It helps investors to find new, profitable investment ideas. However, hedge fund executive Amy Zipper told me that investment managers can become fixated on what their friends are investing in, and this blocks them from making their own fresh observations and confident decisions.

This points to a suppression of divergent thinking. Creativity is often stifled by concerns about how others will judge unique insights and investment ideas, especially if they don’t show a profit in a short timeframe. It seems easier to invest in everything that is popular and that your friends own, but in the long run, the willingness to see the world differently and invest in something that others don’t yet see is what leads to true innovation and wealth creation.

Ask These 4 Questions to Help Spot Groupthink

In general, we tend to fear being wrong or ridiculed as a result of our independent thinking. We fear being different because we want to belong. We also know that defending a new idea is hard work. Yet, what if everyone else is wrong?*

The natural response to an article on groupthink is to say, “Well, I certainly am not part of any groupthink!” But statistically, the opposite is most likely true. Groupthink inhibits critical thinking, genuine self-reflection, and effective problem-solving. The first step to avoid groupthink is to spot where it already exists so that you don’t get bamboozled by it next time.

Take a Moment to Consider Your Ecosystems by Asking the Following Questions:

  • Are you in a group in which you self-censor, because you know that if you offer your point of view, you will be ridiculed, shunned, or disregarded?
  • Is there any group in which you always automatically agree with all the opinions and judgments of the group?
  • Is there any group in which you or others pressure a dissenter to change his or her views?
  • Is there any group in which you and the others in your group regard the “opposing” or competitive groups as evil, stupid, or weak?

It’s actually a good thing if you answered “yes” to any of these questions. It means that you have spotted an inevitable instance of the groupthink that percolates around us. You are already showing that you are open to possibility and change, which is the first key to a solid creative mindset. The consistent practice of creative thinking tools and strategies will help you loosen the groupthink for yourself and your team as you continue to break through the inertia of no.

Janis, I. L. (1971). Groupthink. Psychology Today, 5, 43-46, 74-76.

*As Chuck Klosterman wrote in his compelling book But What If We’re Wrong? ,“The history of ideas . . . is a pattern of error, with each new generation reframing and correcting the mistakes of the one that came before.”

Groupthink is what happens when the desire to have harmony and consensus discourages healthy dissent during the decision-making process. In other words, when individuals fear rocking the boat, they don’t voice their disagreement – even if they know they should. The results can be disastrous.

Consider the failure to anticipate Pearl Harbor, the escalation of the Vietnam War and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. All are examples of groupthink at its worst. The phenomenon is also common in the business world, and has undone many successful companies.

Too much conformity clouds the decision-making process and offers only a one-sided perspective to issues that require complex consideration. Here’s how to avoid groupthink so that it doesn’t hurt your business.

1. The loudest, not the best, decisions win

In group meetings, often those with the loudest and strongest voices get their way. More reserved employees don’t speak up as much. Teams usually pick decisions communicated the boldest and most passionately. Unfortunately, the loudest decisions aren’t always the best decisions.

2. Consensus masks apathy

Sometimes employees go along just to get along. They may not care about the issue at hand at all, but agree to a decision to end the meeting, or because they believe their input won’t make a difference. With little resistance, leaders can easily push through decisions. On the surface, these decisions appear unanimous, but they should give business leaders pause. Why aren’t your employees contributing fully to discussions? If they don’t care about the decision-making process, they may not be invested in your company’s growth or success. And that can show up in their performance or customer service.

3. Groupthink leads to blame

When employees feel pressure for consensus, no one individual feels that they own the decision. If it fails, “It’s not my fault,” and the finger-pointing begins. That’s what happened to a business leader I advised, a strong, persuasive individual. He had launched a program to improve employee morale, and believed he had everyone’s support, despite seeking little input from his executive team. But when the initiative failed, his employees quickly blamed him for its failure, and morale sunk to new depths. The episode generated mistrust and ill will that was hard to overcome.

Is your company vulnerable to groupthink?

To find out, use your eyes, ears and your gut to assess your team’s current level of engagement and morale. Here are some warning signs to take into consideration and help you avoid groupthink.

1. Recent success

Everything is going great, maybe too great. Your team might be afraid to float new ideas or initiatives that could threaten the status quo and result in failure. Complacency is a common side effect of groupthink, and can significantly stall your company’s growth.

2. Lack of diversity

Scan the room at your next meeting. If everyone in the room shares the same experience and background, that should raise a red flag. Who’s missing? For example, it would be a mistake to leave millennials out of key decisions just because they don’t have as much experience as more seasoned employees. By excluding others with different viewpoints, there’s a danger you’re closing yourself off to new ideas and becoming safer – too safe.

3. A climate of fear

Do your employees seem comfortable with each other? Are meetings collaborative affairs, in which employees smile and make frequent eye contact with each other? Or do they clam up and barely look up from their phones when decision time comes? Employees won’t share their ideas if they’re afraid they will be disciplined, or even lose their jobs, by expressing opinions counter to the mainstream company dogma.

4. An intimidating leader

It’s true that business leaders should project confidence in their abilities to succeed. But acting like you know it all will only shut down alternative points of view. Are you ever vulnerable and open to discussion, or do you feel the need to be right at all costs?

How to discourage groupthink

The habit of groupthink can be hard to break, but with these strategies, you can avoid groupthink and the negative effect it can have on your company.

Create a sharing environment

Smart business leaders take care to cultivate a company culture of support and trust that welcomes ideas of all types. To do that, make sure your decision-making process does the following to help avoid groupthink:

  • Includes participation from all employees involved in the decision
  • Introduces alternative viewpoints for discussion
  • Rewards employees for vocalizing opinions outside the norm
  • Examines the risks and benefits of more than one option or plan
  • Encourages constructive dissent as a healthy part of the discussion
  • Analyzes information objectively
  • Includes information from outside sources when necessary, for additional objectivity
  • Shows the team that the leader can be vulnerable and may not always have the best answers

Assess your communication style

If you typically make decisions in a group setting with louder people having the most input, and notice others aren’t speaking up, offer to engage them separately in a one-on-one meeting. Showing that you value different communication styles speaks volumes to employees, and encourages them to open up.

Embrace your inner contrarian

For clarity on a decision, a leader should be able to argue both sides. Test the group. If they’re swimming one way, see what they think of the opposite point of view. Don’t be afraid to explore alternatives, and for the discussion to become heated. A little conflict can help reveal pros and cons that otherwise might be ignored.

Stay the course

To avoid groupthink in the future, continue to question assumptions, reward out-of-the-box ideas, and make sure your team stays hungry for progress, even after you’ve had a taste at success. These tactics will help your team meet challenges with open minds and avoid making bad decisions.