Dangers of Groupthink: Build a Better Business Team

Dangers of Groupthink

For the last few years, our ability to work in cohesive group settings has been challenged, and we’ve been forced to think outside the box. 

We’ve had no choice but to try multiple solutions and sometimes agree to disagree. 

But now that the world is rebounding and specific challenges aren’t as relevant, we’re facing the equal hindrance of the opposite end of the spectrum: agreeing to agree. 

Groupthink has become the ‘new’ office conflict, posing an even bigger problem to office culture and solutions-based thinking. 

Although conflict is never the goal, equally, neither is Groupthink.

What is Groupthink?

Groupthink is a disruptive phenomenon that can quickly occur in any social, formal, or otherwise group setting. 

First coined by psychologist Irving L. Janis in 1972, Groupthink described a peculiar behavior frequently observed in group settings, especially those making decisions under pressure. He noticed that within any given group, people would aim for easy consensus, often going as far as to set aside their own opinions and adopt the agreement of the group.

Those who remain in disagreement often stay quiet, also known as – keeping the peace. 

And keeping the peace leads to poor decision making, lagging effectiveness, wasted resources, and overall strength as a diversely thinking team. 

Causes of Groupthink

Groupthink can seep into any vulnerable setting at any given time. So the best way to combat group thinking is to prevent its causes in the first place. 

1. A lack of diversity in the team: 

Teams are much more likely to slip into Groupthink patterns when too many team members have similar thinking patterns, work experience, life experience, and education. Adding diversity across these areas when seeking strong candidates are critical to keeping ideas fresh, exciting, and outside the box. 

2. Strong leadership that lacks delegation:

Good leaders give their team autonomy and space to make empowered decisions. They also welcome fresh ideas, changes, and outside opinions to help shape business solutions. Leadership that is too strong and forceful tends to influence the group out of intimidation and fear of poking the bear. 

3. Lack of expertise: 

If one group member stands out in one area, other group members may deem themselves less qualified and are more likely to groupthink and remain non-confrontational. All team members should feel they have the proper knowledge for the job. 

4. Too much pressure: 

Pressure to make decisions rapidly and under stress can cause groups to accept a decision or a line of action to alleviate the tension and move on to the next thing. 

The Dangers of Groupthink in the Workplace 

Not only does the dream die when teams engage in Groupthink, but fresh ideas, decision making, critical thinking, and vital problem-solving are also gonners’. 

Without new thoughts and ideas, businesses are less likely to set and meet goals, effectively plan and strategize, gather data, and connect with their consumers. Groupthink leads to poor decision making, lack of innovation, and stagnation leaving businesses completely derailed and, sometimes, in over their heads. 

Businesses that don’t focus on innovation and encouraging employees to express their opinions quickly lead to disengagement and dwindling enthusiasm. Groupthink also leaves teams vulnerable to:

  • A lack of creativity 
  • Resistance to new information 
  • Unrealistic views of success or intelligence 
  • Lack of preparation for unprecedented outcomes 
  • Ignoring recent trends or information 
  • Failure of the overall team 
  • Poor employee retention 

How to Prevent + Combat Groupthink

It’s so much easier to stop groupthink before it starts, and that starts with creating systems and structures designed for outside-the-box thinking. 

1. Build a diverse team from the get-go:

Diversity in your group is critical – 

Naturally, it’s easier to gravitate to like-minded people when hiring and promoting. But when it comes to diverse thinking, unique strategies, and temporary problem solving, someone who doesn’t think like the rest is best. 

What matters more than thoughts are actions and chemistry. So consider how potential hires will add to the overall chemistry of the group and what skill sets they bring that will refresh the energy. 

2. Welcome a little conflict: 

Employees will feel secure and safe bringing up opposing positions if the stage is set to welcome healthy discussion (and even a minor conflict). Demonstrate constructive conversations and solutions-based thinking. Let it be known that a healthy challenge is expected and encouraged when bringing talks to the table. The ultimate goal is a group consensus (not unanimity), which can be concluded after navigating challenging conversations. 

3. Implement strategic decision-making processes:

Implementing systems and structures around how decisions are made can provide clear guidelines about bringing findings to the table, making space for conversation/conflict/resolution, discussions about why the suggestions won’t work (to reduce the instance of poor decision making), and ultimately what makes a successful decision. 

Systems in place create structure and reliability around data analysis, red flagging potential problems and driving solutions before they begin. 

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