How to Avoid Groupthink

Jun 18 2015

Groupthink is one of the prime factors of poor decision making in an organization. Not only can it take your company full steam ahead into bad decision territory, it’s also extremely hard and uncomfortable to avoid. So how do you deal with groupthink? How exactly do you create conflict, which opens up channels for new ideas to flow, and still maintain the important cohesiveness of your team? The answer may be a little more drawn out than you think.

Groupthink is a theory developed by Irving Janis that states that “people engaged in a cohesive group would rather strive for unanimity than realistically appraise alternate courses of action.” To tackle this problem, an environment must be established in which conflict is welcome.

Selecting a diverse team is one of the initial ways groupthink can be avoided. By selecting a group of people whom have varying experiences and personalities will ensure that every aspect of a problem is explored. For example, people from different functions will have differing opinions on how to accomplish a goal. The accountant is going to have differing opinions from a marketer. It’s important that arguments from all sides are heard and explored.

Of course, by selecting a diverse team, there is going to be conflict. Embrace it! Conflict is an essential part of business and can help test how strong a solution is. Conflict is how groups should work through an issue to achieve the best possible outcome. Establish group norms that conflict is to be embraced and that all opinions should be heard. Of course, conflict can get out of hand if it is monitored properly. Keep a close eye on the group and make sure the discussion is healthy and that things don’t get personal. Highlighting to your group that there are no stupid ideas and all of them should be heard. Members should never be afraid to voice their opinion.

It may be good to assign the role of devil’s advocate to someone within the group. The devil’s advocate’s job is to explore new perspectives of an idea and keep the group grounded in reality. The devil’s advocate will challenge the group’s solutions and keep them constantly on the edge. Additionally, bringing in a moderator who can fact check the group will keep solutions realistic.

Creating a group where conflict is embraced will ensure solutions that are tested and robust and that all sides are explored. You should always be looking to challenge members at meetings and create healthy discussions.