The Danger of Groupthink

Posted by on Nov 27, 2012 in ComLead, Organizational Leadership

The Danger of Groupthink

Read any business review blog today, and you’ll soon notice a trend: teams. Democratic teams – where every member contributes ideas and efforts – are popular solution to today’s business challenges. Some  say they’re the best way to improve a business’s output, efficiency, and innovation. Check out HBR’s article, “The Power of Teamwork”, to see what I mean.

Ideally, these teams harmonize the voices of all members to reach a consensus. The ComLead grad program is designed to prepare students for excellence in today’s business world. And so it emphasizes group work, giving us plenty of experience navigating the murky waters of coordinating knowledge, skills, opinions and – worst of all – schedules.

This semester I’m a team member in multiple classes, and projects range from theory-based presentations and fundraising pitches to strategic consulting projects. Though my projects and team structures are diverse, I’m noticing a universal trend across my teams: as deadlines approach, my teams are more and more comfortable with conformity.

 What’s the Problem?

What makes teams effective is diversity of opinion and ideas. The number one danger to democratic teams? Conformity: when members follow a single opinion — even when their experience and knowledge suggests otherwise. Social thinker George Orwell called it groupthink.

Groupthink happens when we stop thinking critically and stop seeking input from each members. That’s what we’re experiencing in our academic teamwork, as members agree with the first sufficient idea rather than thinking strategically to collectively create an optimal solution.

It’s easy to slip into groupthink. Not only does voicing individual concerns take time, but it can cause disagreements and even alienation.  In groups, we aim to minimize conflict, preserve positive working relationships and reach a quick consensus. Often it seems safer to simply consent to a prevailing opinion and keep personal concerns to ourselves.

Saying No to Groupthink

An effective team avoids groupthink and intentionally promotes advocacy and critical thinking. Democratic teams build these habits into the structure of their team. They make time to explore each member’s opinion and ask for input from a devil’s advocate.

With final deadlines approaching, we’ve slipped into the habit of skipping these steps. So how do we keep a democratic team on track, even during crunch time? We start early, making sure the early stages of discussion and planning include every voice. In the process of making sense of our purpose, goals and roles, we can build dialogue and comfort with conflict into the DNA of our team.



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