“Well why didn’t you say something at the meeting?”
“I didn’t feel comfortable to. Everyone else was happy with the idea so I didn’t want to rock the boat.”
That’s a classic example of groupthink.
Groupthink is common. It’s defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making.”
Social psychologist Irving Janis came up with the term in 1972 and says that groupthink is most likely to happen when groups are very cohesive. People want to fit in more than they want to express a different opinion.
I’m sure most of us have been in situations where we decided to go with the consensus instead of arguing against it. We tell ourselves that if everyone else is happy, perhaps what we’re wrong.
What groupthink does is to shut down independent or alternative thought but without it, no team or organisation can prosper.
So, how can you tell if it’s groupthink or the group is genuinely in agreement?
Watch the group in discussion and look for some of these things:
- Everyone unanimously agrees to every decision.
- The talking is done by only one or two people.
- If a member questions the current thinking, they are shut down quickly.
- Alternate suggestions are dismissed without real discussion.
- You see the silent people making eye contact with others but not speaking up.
- The leader assumes agreement without checking.
Be honest. No group agrees on everything. If they do, it’s a neon sign flashing for help.
We don’t want groupthink in our teams, do we? No!
Here are some things you can do to eliminate groupthink from your teams.
- Make people aware of groupthink and its consequences. Until it’s pointed out to us, most of us don’t realise we’re caught up in groupthink. Make sure your team knows what it is and how it restricts creativity and idea-generation.
- Teach the leader not to offer solutions until there has been an open conversation on the topic. By choice, loyal team members will support their leader rather than challenge them. When the leader hasn’t expressed an opinion, conversation can begin.
- Encourage discussion. Model it in your meetings and expect it in theirs. Change the norm.
- Encourage evaluation of ideas. I call it the evaluation of ideas instead of talking about disagreement or criticism. Make it a rule that before making the final decision, it’s checked for all the pros and cons.
- Expect the team to look for more than one solution. When the team presents their solution to you, ask them to outline what other choices they considered. Make it seem a normal part of the decision-making process.
Finally, if you think you’ve spotted groupthink in your teams, bring it out into the open. Describe what you’re seeing and ask the group for their comments.
If you want to build a high-performing team -one that is creative, willing to take risks and strive to make them work – tackle groupthink head on. There’s no other way to get to the heart of the problem.
Can you do that?
Don’t forget I’m here to help when you need me through executive coaching and courageous conversations. I’d love to hear from you.