Or, as a department head, you felt the group’s decision was unanimous only to find out later people were complaining that it wouldn’t work? Or senior management championed a change in strategy that you knew would cause customers to defect in droves?
If so, you have probably been a victim of Groupthink which occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people’s common sense desire to present alternatives, critique a position or express an unpopular opinion.
Two well-known examples are the Challenger disaster (Engineers were aware of faulty parts months before takeoff but didn’t want negative press and pushed ahead with the launch); and the Bay of Pigs invasion (President Kennedy made a decision and the people around him supported it despite their real fears).
The term “Groupthink” was coined by Irving Janis in 1972 when he was researching why a team reaches an excellent decision one time and a disastrous one the next. He found two key reasons that led to poor decisions: 1) A lack of people speaking out with opposing viewpoints; 2) the groups either didn’t gather the right information or alternatives were not fully analyzed.
To avoid Groupthink, especially for critical business decisions, it’s important to have a process in place for open dialogue, for checking the fundamental assumptions and for evaluating the risks involved.
Here are simple guidelines for group leaders from my experience in facilitating meetings and retreats with management teams and boards.
- Identify objectives.
Why are we here? What do we want to accomplish? What are the results we want?
- Explore alternatives.
Besides XYZ, what other possibilities are there? How can we make sure we’ve put looked at every option?
- Tests assumptions and examine risks.
If we do this, what’s the best case scenario? What’s the worst case? How good is the best? had bad is the worst?
- Re-examine alternatives that were rejected.
OK, let’s take a break and then take another look at what was suggested. What are some concerns?
- Gather relevant information from outside sources.
Let’s contact Joe. His team have had experience with this problem. How did they handle it?
- Encourage challenging of ideas without reprisal.
If you were given $100 for each hole you can find in this decision, what would some of them be?
- Regularly takes the group’s pulse.
On a scale for 1(not so good) to 5 (doing our best) how well are we dealing with group think? Give examples of what we’re doing well and what do we need to improve.
Teams are capable of being much more effective than individuals but, when Groupthink sets in, the opposite can be true. By creating a healthy group-working environment, group can more effectively make good decisions and manage any associated risks.
Smart Moves Tip:
Groupthink can severely undermine the value of a group’s work, can stifle teamwork and leave all but the most vocal team members disillusioned and dissatisfied. If you lead a team that makes a decision people don’t really support and don’t feel they can’t say so, their enthusiasm will quickly fade. Don’t let that happen. Also See Do Your teams Communicate With Each Other?
Is attending or leading meetings like going to the dentist for a root canal?
Let Marcia help you plan or facilitate your next big meeting or act as a guest speaker. Take Action Now! Let’s Talk! Copyright © 2012 Marcia Zidle, leadership and career coach.