Welcome to Rationality Rules, a Movius blog post series where we examine ways of thinking that help us navigate business with sound judgment. In the last post, we discussed applying computational thinking to your business. Today we will discuss groupthink, its causes, how it can negatively impact your business, and how to combat it effectively.
What is Groupthink?
Groupthink is a phenomenon where members in an organization are so concerned with agreement and unity, that constructive criticism is shunned, and outside perspectives are discouraged. If this problem isn’t addressed, this can lead to problems being overlooked and the organization failing to innovate.
Causes of Groupthink
COHESION – TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?
In smaller organizations or teams, the bonds between members can be strong. While we usually want to encourage camaraderie, excessive cohesion can give rise to groupthink. As individuals strive to fit in and avoid confrontation, dissenting opinions may remain unspoken. The lack of healthy disagreement stifles the diversity of perspectives essential for making the best decisions.
The Fix: To foster an environment conducive to fruitful discussions, it is crucial to actively encourage dissenting voices and value the exploration of alternative choices. You might consider playing a team-building game that focuses on building diverse perspectives. In the game, you would present a complex problem to your team. Have them each work on their solutions in private and then bring them together to discuss. Encourage everyone to be open to compromise and to talk about the pros and cons of everyone’s proposed solutions before integrating the best of everyone’s proposals into the final solution. Then have the team members reflect on how this process compares to the usual way they work together.
ISOLATION – THE IMPORTANCE OF STRIKING A BALANCE
Sometimes there are valid reasons for teams to work in isolation. Confidentiality is important for certain decisions, and work is faster and designs more cohesive if they’re not “designed by a committee”. However, excessive secrecy isolates teams from external viewpoints. When isolated, teams risk becoming insulated from constructive criticism, leading to a false sense that there’s no room for improvements. It’s vital to strike a balance, seeking external insights when appropriate to challenge assumptions and broaden perspectives.
The Fix: Encourage teams to set up a regular cadence where they discuss projects with outside teams to allow fresh perspectives and a chance to consider the feedback of the outside teams. Another option is to set up learning exchanges, where team members share successes and learnings from their own work with other teams. You can also consider rotational assignments, where team members temporarily join different teams to gain different experiences and perspectives.
LEADERSHIP – THE IMPORTANCE OF ENCOURAGING DISSENT
Effective leadership lies in giving power to team members and encouraging diverse opinions. In rigidly controlled groups, leaders often dictate the course of action, which discourages dissent and stifles creativity. By fostering an environment where all voices are heard and respected, leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams.
The Fix: Encourage leaders to embrace their authority while remaining open to dissenting opinions is key. Leaders should hold regular meetings where they practice active listening and demonstrate that there are no negative consequences for those who dissent or take risks in the organization. Psychological safety comes from a non-judgmental environment where people do not fear punishment.
DECISION-MAKING STRESS – ADDRESSING INSECURITY IN YOUR ORGANIZATION
When facing important decisions, individuals within a group naturally experience a degree of insecurity. This inherent stress can inadvertently push teams toward hasty, consensus-driven choices that avoid conflict. By prioritizing harmony over thorough examination, critical issues may go unnoticed.
The Fix: It’s essential to recognize decisional stress and proactively create an environment where team members feel empowered to challenge assumptions, question the status quo, and explore alternatives. Some ways to create such an environment include creating clear processes that everyone understands and agrees with, providing sufficient time and resources for making critical decisions, and wellness programs that encourage mindfulness, work-life balance, and taking breaks.
Groupthink can silently erode at your success. Recognizing and mitigating its causes—cohesion, isolation, leadership, and decision-making stress—is essential for unlocking the full potential of your team. Encouraging diverse perspectives, embracing open dialogue, seeking external input, nurturing empowering leadership, and valuing individual contributions are key steps toward fostering a culture of innovation and achieving remarkable outcomes.
I hope this article helped you understand how to fix groupthink, a troublesome issue that could cause problems for your business. If you want to be notified of the next posts in this series, please subscribe for updates!