Management Tips | April 2, 2020

Groupthink is a Trap: How Managers Can Avoid It

image representing Groupthink is a Trap: How Managers Can Avoid It

We all know what groupthink is. We’ve all seen it go down in meetings. In the rare case you haven’t, groupthink is the phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group.  It occurs when people set aside their own personal belief to adopt or simply go along with the popular opinion of those around them. Groupthink avoids conflict and scrutinization….but to those who partake, it’s an easy way out. 

Regardless of reason - whether it be new, shy, or unprepared employees or lack of cognitive and cultural diversity within the team - the output is the same:

When your team engages in groupthink it stunts your ability to get the best ideas on the table and can lead to impulsive and ineffective decision-making during team meetings.

Avoiding groupthink starts with management.  It’s critical that you construct an environment that encourages team members to openly contribute their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. 

If you want the best ideas on the table you must have processes and practices in place to:

  • Monitor signs of groupthink 
  • Analyze and validate the decision-making process
  • Facilitate open feedback from all involved.

Here are a five actionable ways to mitigate groupthink that we believe in:

5 Ways to Avoid Groupthink

1. Pairing

Pairing is a concept from Steven Rogelberg’s The Surprising Science of Meetings where you split your team into pairs to discuss meeting ideas/topics for a few minutes before moving to the all-attendee discussion.  

Pairing gets everyone involved; creating a more inviting environment for those new or introverted team members to express their opinions. Rogelberg’s studies show that partners of less vocal employees tend to advocate for their partner’s ideas, ensuring their voice is still heard. 

The key to Pairing, Rogelberg believes, is to make it clear that everything said in the breakout conversations is tentative and that you aren’t looking for definitive resolutions.

2. Brainwriting

Straight from Wikipedia, Brainwriting is a group-structured brainstorming technique aimed at aiding innovation by stimulating creativity.  It can take a variety of forms, but the general idea contends that participants silently write ideas, opinions, or responses around a specific topic or meeting agenda item before open discussion.

The key to generating more diversity of thought here is anonymity.  By removing the noise and the name, you force your entire team to bring their ideas to discussion.  Brainwriting produces 20% more ideas and 42% original ideas as compared to brainstorming while helping mitigate groupthink by reducing the likelihood that meeting attendees will forego their own ideas and embrace someone else’s.

Put it into practice: Have your team write down their individual thoughts or ideas pertaining to a specific topic on separate index cards then vote and/or have a discussion around them

3. Sharing Meeting Agendas

Imagine you’ve been thinking about a problem for a week straight. You've done your research but you want to hear feedback from your team before making your next move. You raise the problem in your next team meeting hoping to elicit a lively discussion on what to do next....

If this is your process, you’re doing your team a disservice! Expecting them to have real-time well-formulated opinions or concrete ideas on a topic you’ve spent days preparing for is an open invitation for groupthink to permeate your discussion.

Put it into practice: Send out a shared meeting agenda 2-3 days in advance so your team can prepare, leading to a more thoughtful discussion and, hopefully, better business decisions

Strety Users: Use Comments to further the discussion leading up to your meetings and leverage Action Items to assign any required tasks to ensure everyone is on the same page before your next meeting.

shared meeting agenda

4. Silent Reading

I’m going to somewhat contradict the previous suggestion because each business is different and not all solutions to mitigating groupthink are universal!

Jeff Bezos believes ideas should be “evaluated on their merits and not influenced by the flash, personality, and speaking talents of the presenter… nor should there be implicit pressure to be socially cohesive when dictating choices that are made in a meeting”. Where Amazon differs is their institutionalized practice that all ideas, concepts, and proposals have to be thoroughly documented

Amazon includes a period of silence within the meeting to read relevant documents. This assures necessary preparation is done by all attendees, reassures that the work is valuable, and prevents groupthink by giving attendees the opportunity to formulate their own unbiased opinion of the presentation before the presenter speaks.

Additionally, Silent Reading gives the presenter the opportunity to express detailed ideas and rationale on a deeper level than they could orally.  Attendees gain control over the knowledge acquisition; allowing them to slow down and re-read sections. The self-pacing increases understanding and retention and the discussions that flow post-practice are the benefactor.  

5. Solicit, i.e force, Feedback

When groupthink occurs, ideas get adopted and the organization quickly moves on. Not so fast. Try having everyone in attendance write down or submit one piece of positive feedback and one piece of critical feedback around each topic or agenda item. This forces your team to think critically about the decisions made in your organization. 

Put it into practice: Leverage email, documentation tools like Google Docs, internal communication tools like Slack or Teams, or a a performance management tool like Strety to generate real-time feedback about decisions that matter

 

If you didn’t already, you now understand the dangers groupthink can present to your organization and how you can be proactive in combating it.  It’s all about creating a work environment where the best ideas can come forth and better decisions can be made as a result!

Share Your Strategy

Send us a quick email - info@strety.com - telling us how you’ve successfully curbed groupthink, whether through the ideas presented here or your own original solutions.  We’d love to learn from you!

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