Overcoming Groupthink

Super Julie BraunBusinesses

A picture of dogs thinking as a group. Teamwork

I’ll be the first to admit that I prefer working alone. Regardless of preference, some jobs require employees to work in a group setting where problems are bound to happen. People usually focus on problems related to dysfunction; however, having a group that agrees on everything can also cause issues.

If you’ve ever been the odd one out in a group then you know it can be uncomfortable. Wanting to fit in is natural and expected. At work, a team easily arriving at a common solution makes for a happier work environment. When team members choose to conform and limit discussion, they’re participating in groupthink.

In theory, groupthink seems harmless, but in practice, it can lead to severe consequences. I worked in a team with a few strong voices for a national advertising competition. Although team members didn’t agree with certain ideas, they went along with them for fear of angering the group. At the competition, the judges asked questions related to issues team members were afraid to voice. Our group failed because the urge to conform was greater than the urge to think critically.

Conquering Groupthink

My advertising team is a minor example compared to some of the bigger issues groupthink can lead to in the work environment. Fear of team resentment can stop people from mentioning safety flaws or asking questions about odd designs. Down the line, groupthink can be very costly for your company and its clients. You can conquer groupthink with these helpful tips.

  1. Group consensus does not mean the idea is good. Challenge the reasoning for each decision to make sure the decision is sound, justifiable, and not a result of peer pressure. Require all arguments be supported by research. Make it a rule that your team evaluates research in favor of your arguments and research against them.
  2. Workers don’t speak up in a group setting because they fear pressures outside and inside the group. Routinely remind team members that you want open discussion and that all questions are welcome. Questions allow individuals within the group to assess different arguments. Remind team members to be open to questions and resist being defensive. Personal feelings can limit decision making. The point of a discussion is to come to the best solution.
  3. Rotating the team leader position helps prevent one person from being too influential over the group. Also, if the urge to agree is extremely strong, assign a team member to play devil’s advocate. This person’s job is to present an argumentative opinion to stimulate debate and challenge the consensus. Rotate this position, as it can be more influential than the leader.