How do I Manage to Minimize Groupthink?

April 16, 2018

How do I Manage to Minimize Groupthink?groupthink

In the last post, I covered whether to deal with underground, and often incorrect, employee perceptions. I think you need to as a manager and doing so will help address one of the most pernicious undercurrents: groupthink.

What is groupthink?

Groupthink is one of several undercurrents of which most people are unaware but which can materially affect their careers. Specifically, groupthink is the tendency of a group to seek consensus even if it doesn’t produce the best solution. It is a major bar to innovation.

In future, I’ll discuss the phenomenon in more detail but right now, I think it is sufficient to say that groupthink comes from an almost overwhelming need of most people to get along with their colleagues. This need can sometimes lead to papering over issues which should not be, or even starting to believe that you are in error because  of the group’s differing expressed views. This is what happened in the post on deciding holiday schedules.

I realize that in the panoply of management responsibilities, deciding holiday schedules is right down there, but I chose that situation precisely because it is minor to show that undercurrents can operate in the most seemingly innocuous places.

How to supervise to avoid groupthink

By and large, groupthink happens in meetings. So what can you do to minimize it? You are in a unique position to do so because you are the manager. Here are some possibilities:

Encourage discussion of unpopular options. In the meeting already covered, Thomas made a suggestion.

Thomas: Let’s do a rotation. Two of us this year and another two next.
Edgar: But what if next year’s people aren’t with the group then?
Thomas: So the next person on the list takes it.

The group ignored the suggestion. But you could help minimize the groupthink by saying something like:

You (Ned): Hey, let’s not skip over that so quickly. Would it work?

You can help the group avoid shutting down the option before it is fully explored. It would have the added bonus of showing Thomas that you’re listening to him.

 

Speak last. You did this well. You didn’t start off the meeting with your opinion. If people tend to go along with their colleagues, they really tend to agree with the boss. If you want to weigh in, do it after everyone else has had a chance to speak.

 

Support dissenters. You know who they are: the ones with the hobby horse or who don’t know when to shut up. In my book, Creating the Innovation Culture: Leveraging Visionaries Dissenters and Other Useful Troublemakers in Your Organization, I point out that dissenters in the work place who are listened to, force groups to make better and more innovative decisions, even if the dissenter is wrong.  You can help the dissenter help the group by preventing them from automatically dismissing whatever he says.

Don’t assume silence is consent. Much more typical for people who disagree is to keep silent and then possibly sabotage the initiative later. Encourage everyone to speak their minds.

Secret ballot. This is an option I’d go with if it is an important issue and if you suspect that not everyone is being heard. I wouldn’t use it frequently. The better, albeit more difficult, route is to encourage everyone to speak their minds.

So, you can influence how and whether your group succumbs to groupthink. But are you also prey to an underground current yourself? Next post.

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