Groupthink is a phenomenon that came into being in the 1970s during a classic study pursued by social psychologist Irving Janis, it was commonly associated with poor decisions that came out of teams or groups of knowledgeable people. The core idea behind groupthink is that when ideas aren’t challenged in a group then everyone just agrees to a consensus without any debate. Now, it’s okay to follow a consensus for a small-everyday decision such as what to eat for dinner, but for major organizational decisions, this can be harmful and may even lead to disastrous outcomes.
Not every group suffers from groupthink, so when does it happen? According to Janis, group thinking can develop in a group when group cohesiveness is high and when a group has a ‘warm, clubby atmosphere.’ This is often reported in organizations that heavily rely on referrals for recruitments so after a point majority of the team are friends who build group cohesiveness as they don’t prefer going against any of their friend’s decisions. It also happens when a group is homogeneous, meaning when all of the team members have similar demographics.
And how do you recognize it in your organization? To recognize and understand the amount of groupthink in your organization, Reflect upon your last team meeting and answer the following:
– Did team members ask questions from each other?
– Was anyone critical of any of the ideas of other team members?
– How many of them were critical about a particular idea? And how often were they critical?
– Did all of the team members agree quickly to a suggested idea?
– Did you learn anything new, or did you majorly discuss something that everyone already knows?
The answers to these questions will assist you in understanding the possible risk of groupthink for your team.
So, How do you prevent it? A simple and effective hack is to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the team members. Once you do that then assign a specific role of Devil Advocate to one of the members, their role would be to propose and stick to the side of an argument that is not supported by most of the team members, thereby being able to further critically examine their argument and enrich the meeting. This is effective because when everyone feels that they have specific role-related expertise to contribute, they focus more on the project and less on comforting others.
Another efficient hack is to build diversity of perspectives in the team. Try to expand your team’s viewpoint by inviting a new member for discussions from other departments who can provide a fresh perspective in meetings, experts can also be brought into the group to present their views and inform deliberations. Furthermore, this diversity can be boosted by the HR department by focussing on recruiting a more diverse team.
“Always be willing to look at both sides of the argument. Understanding the other side is the best way to strengthen your own.”
– Jim Rohn