Groupthink kills creativity, innovation, and new ideas. And it is widespread in group decision-making.
Not to mention, it ruins relationships within teams, hurts group performance, group decision-making, and makes teamwork frustrating. What is groupthink?
Related: How Do I Build A Team?
Wikipedia has a good definition of groupthink. “A psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision making outcome.”
What is groupthink in simple terms?
Groupthink occurs when people stop thinking for themselves and instead defer to the team leader or majority opinion. This can happen because group members want to fit in, feel accepted, or avoid conflict.
As a result, people go along with the group, compromising their individual beliefs even if they have serious reservations to maintain the harmony of the group.
“Don’t rock the boat” or “maintain the status quo” are often sayings used to describe the fear of going against the grain that can come with groupthink.
This can lead to bad decisions or outcomes as the group is not able to critically examine all potential options.
Why Groupthink Happens
Groupthink often happens when a team leader encourages conformity and discourages dissent. The creative process is stifled. New ideas and opposing viewpoints are ridiculed or silenced. It can also happen when the members of the group are all friends or have similar backgrounds, so there is direct pressure to conform to the majority opinion in the decision-making process. It can make work feel like high school all over again.
This is dangerous because it means that group members are not thinking critically or objectively. They are not considering all the options or looking at the situation from different perspectives. Leaders need to be aware of the dangers of groupthink and take steps to prevent it in the decision-making process.
What Makes Groupthink So Bad When It Comes to Group Decision Making
There are several negative consequences of groupthink.
First, it can lead to poor decision-making as the group does not consider all potential options. Leaving new ideas out which could be the answer to a problem or the next big thing.
Second, it can create an environment where group members are afraid to speak up or express dissent, stifling creativity and new ideas.
Finally, it can foster an us-versus-them mentality, leading to conflict and division among group members and even leading to a hostile work environment where members call out group members for having different ideas.
How to recognize groupthink
There are several warning signs that a group may be experiencing symptoms of groupthink and engaging in defective decision making. Here are some groupthink symptoms.
First, the group will likely be in agreement about most things, and there will be little discussion or debate during decision-making or problem-solving.
Second, the group will likely have a strong sense of camaraderie and will close ranks against outsiders.
Third, group leaders will likely be very autocratic, will not tolerate dissent, or listen to the group’s ideas or alternative solutions. Responding to new ideas with an automatic reply, “We’ve tried that before, it didn’t work” and shutting any further discussion down.
Fourth, group members will likely be reluctant to express their own opinions, conducting self censorship, and may even go along with decisions that they disagree with.
If you see these warning signs in a group, it is important to try to encourage more discussion and debate during the decision-making process. It is also important to encourage group members to express their own opinions, even if they differ from the majority.
Five Ways To Avoid Groupthink When You Lead Group Members
If you are a group leader and groupthink starts to develop, it is important to quickly acknowledge it. There are several things you can do to build group cohesion. Starting with creating an environment where group members feel safe to speak up and express dissenting opinions without fear of retribution.
First, it is essential to have diverse opinions within the group. This can be achieved by including people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.
Second, it is vital to encourage critical thinking and debate within the group. This can be done by encouraging group members to speak up and express their opinions, even if they are in the minority.
Third, be a leader who is willing to listen to dissenting views. And make sure to consider all potential options before making a decision.
Fourth, it is crucial to have clear guidelines for decision-making. This can help ensure that all potential options are considered and that decisions are made thoughtfully.
Fifth, it is important to avoid situations with pressure to conform. This can be done by ensuring that people feel comfortable expressing their own opinions, even if they differ from the majority.
In The Decision Making Process Assign A Devil’s Advocate
Another way to avoid groupthink is to appoint a group member as a devil’s advocate. This is someone who is tasked with challenging the assumptions of the group and pointing out potential problems with the ideas.
The devil’s advocate is an integral part of the decision-making process. They can help ensure that all potential options are considered and that the group is not making any rash decisions.
Suppose you are in a position of leadership. In that case, it is important to be willing to listen to the devil’s advocate, even if you do not agree with their views, to allow for a more objective decision-making process.
Final thoughts on groupthink
Groupthink can be a dangerous phenomenon. It can lead to poor decision-making and an environment where people are afraid to speak up and are going along with group consensus. It is essential to be aware of the warning signs of groupthink, the risks involved, and take steps to avoid it. So that you can make better decisions as a group, avoid ethical or moral consequences, and encourage creativity and new ideas. It also makes teamwork more engaging and interesting to be a part of.
I know you can do it, and I’m cheering you on.
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Dr. Rebecca P. Morgan is an award-winning former Disney leader, best-selling author, the founder of Choose Awesome Company, and the creator of The Awesome Leader League.
She has spent the past two decades studying leadership, business, and developing leaders at all levels at Disney University, and trained people and organizations through the Disney Institute.
Her practical approach based on deep experience and respected research is that the connection between people and profits can transform leaders and their teams to be more creative, resilient, productive, profitable—and happier.