Is Groupthink Squelching Ideas or Silencing Concerns on Your Team?

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“We have a consensus.” It’s great news if you’re part of a workplace team that’s been struggling to reach a decision. But be watchful of groupthink—where your group’s desire to conform (or the pressure to conform) overrides an individual’s desire to find the best possible solution.

We look to groups because we know that more minds bring more ideas … also because we know that individual decision making can be flawed by biases: self-interest, limited knowledge or time, fear of failure and a multitude of other biases, suggests (For a more complete list of biases, read: NST Insights.) In an effort to eliminate these biases and generate more ideas, big decisions are often made by groups.  But ensuring that each individual continues to think independently and contribute without pressure is critical to good group decision making.

Let’s take a look at some of the causes of groupthink, as noted by

  • The group is very cohesive, i.e., everyone having similar backgrounds. “Being with similar people serves a very basic psychological need to belong and feel comfortable,” says Evan Apfelbaum, a W. Maurice Young Assistant Professor of Organization Studies at the MIT School of Management. There is obvious value in this. But there may be a trade-off: These comfortable environments, where we’re surrounded by people like ourselves, may not be the ones that produce the most accurate judgements.
  • The group considers only a few options
  • Members of the group self-censor … keeping questions and concerns to themselves
  • The group is insulated from information coming from outside sources
  • There is great time pressure, producing heightened stress
  • The group is dominated by a very directive or intimidating leader

Here are some ways to prevent groupthink:

  1. Remind each member to evaluate alternatives for risks and drawbacks
  2. The leader should avoid stating preferences and expectations at the outset
  3. Group members should routinely discuss progress with a trusted outside associate and report the associate’s reactions
  4. Establish a template for discussing and evaluating options and making decisions
  5. Invite one or more experts to an occasional meeting. Encourage them to challenge the views of the group.
  6. Stimulate ideas by meeting off-site occasionally
  7. Designate a devil’s advocate to question assumptions and plans
  8. Set aside time to consider obstacles and competitor’s moves, and make a contingency plan

For the best decisions, try to prevent groupthink on work teams. Encourage individual thinking. Create an environment where alternatives are carefully considered, challenged and appraised … where disagreement is expected. These measures will help ensure the best possible solutions aren’t overlooked or discarded.


Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.