Can You Prevent Group Conformity? Maybe.

September 17, 2018

Can You Prevent Group Conformity? Maybe.

Groupthink is a powerful but unseen force in organizations. In our example, you were wise to consider how you would be perceived by the group and it probably didn’t matter that you went along with the majority. But what if the outcome had been really important? Or if you were sure you had the right answer? How could you discourage conformity to open up the discussion?

Below are ways to handle the most common groupthink.

Groupthink/conformity symptom What you can do
Confirmation bias. A group only considers information supporting what it has already decided is true. You can call the group on its actions. “I wonder if we should slow down a bit to be sure we consider all possibilities.  Jessica had a good point. Could you repeat it?”


Information cascade. As more people believe, the idea’s legitimacy increases and the desire for other solutions falls.[1] Again, bring the group’s attention to its behavior. “Whoa. I think Dan’s idea has great potential but Beth, you’re the expert in systems architecture. Do you think Dan’s idea will fly?”


False consensus effect. Overestimating the commonness of your beliefs and undervaluing opposing views.[2] “I don’t know how common that view is. Can I have a show of hands?”


Censoring new ideas. Thinking which challenges is excluded or rationalized. Conformity becomes easier than standing up for what you believe.[3] This is the toughest one. I’ll say more in the next post. “I’d really like to present my idea in full before we get to objections. It might make my thinking clearer.”

Truthfully, these solutions aren’t foolproof. Remember, everyone is likely in the throes of groupthink, so they might not speak up even if asked directly. They might have decided it’s better to lie low and go along with the group.

So, it might come down to just you, fighting for an idea which doesn’t fit the group’s ideas.

The question: should you? Next post.

[1] Ibid, Chapter 3

[2] Cross, Robert L. and Susan E. Brodt,  How assumptions of consensus undermine decision-making, MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2001, p.86

[3] Surowiecki, op. cit. Chapter 2

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