Overcoming Groupthink

One thing you will notice about any team is that over time, the individuals play a relatively predictable role in the team’s success or failure. Furthermore, if there is a dominant player/leader, the group will begin to take on the persona and will of that player – manipulated into “yes men” as opposed to independent thinkers who add individualized value to the team decision making processes. The team inevitably “molds” itself to the likeness of the key player so that they may experience continuous perceived wins/rewards. It’s a phenomenon known as Groupthink and it is more common than not. Although this type of strategy may work in physical team sports it tends to be a perfect derailer in business.
The eight symptoms of groupthink are as follow:
  • Illusion of Invulnerability –Because there are no dissenting opinions, an atmosphere of excessive optimism is created that encourages extreme risk taking.
  • Collective Rationalization – Members discount warnings; they convince themselves that their decision is the best option and they do not reconsider their assumptions even when there is contradictory evidence.
  • Inherent Morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and ignore the ethical or moral consequences.
  • Stereotype Outsiders – Outsiders dissent from the group and are therefore inferior, making consideration of their point of view “unnecessary.”
  • Pressure Dissenters – Members are pressured not to express arguments against of the group’s views and are penalized for dissenting opinions.
  • Self-Censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  • Illusion of Unanimity – Because no one voices a dissenting opinion it is assumed that silence is synonymous with unanimity.
  • Self-appointed ‘Mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness.
Daunting, yes. However, there are many methodologies that individuals and groups can adopt to avoid, break through, and overcome groupthink:
  1. Challenge the norms. Ask critical questions, others may have the same question or may not be as savvy as you to have thought of the question.
  2. Be a Disrupter. Suggest new technology, new ways of doing things, or new manners of sharing information.
  3. Maintain professionalism. Sustain loyalty to the integrity of your profession rather than to the cohesion of the team.
  4. Champion a cause. Great for those who do not like attention: in this manner your group can always rely on you to offer an informed opinion from a given perspective.
  5. Be a Dissenter. Great for those who love attention: ask questions from a dissenting perspective just for argument sake. It does not require that you believe in the cause, just that you help your group to “think outside of the box.” 
This is not an exhaustive list. There are many ways for you to contribute and to be a valued team member. Consensus may not always be realized when the group respects diversity of perspective and the dynamism that critical thought adds to the team, the process, the procedure, and ultimately the decision. Simply going with the flow and remaining silent when there is an egregious error wastes time, and over time wears on the team and the organization’s morale.
  1. Encourage small group creative interactions.
  2. Assign a meeting facilitator and rotate responsibility.
  3. Assign the role of “devils advocate” and rotate responsibility.
  4. Embrace constructive criticism. Encourage questions.
  5. Maintain objectivity. Include outside “counsel” for crucial decision making.
  6. Reward creativity.
The most important aspect is to make people feel that their input is valuable and that they can contribute without reprisal. Furthermore, processes should feel objective where everyone has the opportunity to be recognized and success is not defined relative to one player/team member. Just as plants tend to grow toward sunlight, people tend to gravitate toward reward. Reward means praise, acceptance, benefit, as well as award. Objective and rewarding experiences help to foster the type of environment where the individual employee thrives, producing their best product, and enabled to add value to the team as a whole.
Embrace differences and encourage critical thinking to overcome groupthink and to arrive at the most creative and value additive business solutions.