You’re in a meeting, listening to others discuss a plan. Maybe you’re new to the organization or to your role; maybe you’re with more senior members; maybe you’re sitting next to your superior, who is a big proponent of pursuing this course of action. But you’re not; you think it’s a bad idea. You want to speak up but feel intimated or stupid, so you keep your opinion to yourself. Or maybe you do speak up and are quieted, patronized, or ignored. This could be groupthink in action. If these symptoms occur in your meetings, you need to take corrective action. Otherwise, your team may often reach consensus, but on some very bad ideas.
Groupthink is not consensus or agreement. It is not collaboration. It is avoidance of conflict, valuing conformity over what is right. It is a pervasive culture of going along to get along. Groupthink can metastasize throughout an organization and cause it to decay from the inside. Reducing groupthink is essential. Here are some steps leaders can take:
- Top leaders should not express an opinion when a task is assigned to a group.
- All options or alternatives that are viable should be examined.
- Group members should discuss ideas with people they know outside of the group.
- One group member should be assigned the role of “devil’s advocate” to ask opposing questions. Rotate this position from meeting to meeting.
- Multiple groups can work on the same problem.
- Invite outside experts to the meetings and actively solicit their opinions.
If you can follow these guidelines, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of experiencing groupthink. You will be able to make better decisions and, moreover, foster an environment in which perspectives and alternatives are explored in depth before real consensus is reached.