What is groupthink? Why should we avoid it, and how will we know it when we see it?
We need others in our lives to do well—both at home and at work. We talk a lot about social support, about collaboration and about teamwork. We know three heads are better than one and that a strong team wins over a lone ranger. But it is one thing to give voice to this idea, and another to actually realize the potential of a strong team.
Recently I overheard a conversation about a group of kids bullying a fellow student in high school. A few outspoken individuals influenced others around them and soon the whole group began behaving in ways that they would never have done independently.
This got me thinking about the profound impact of a group, both for the good and for the not-so-good. These kids got caught up in something that did not reflect their true values and beliefs, and did not let their strengths shine through. The same kind of power can be seen in the workplace, and we are wise to pay heed and avoid groupthink.
Here are some warning signs of groupthink:
1. The risks of a decision are downplayed or ignored.
2. Alternative ideas are silenced to preserve collective unity.
3. Group members do not feel safe to express viewpoints if they deviate from the collective.
4. The majority viewpoint is assumed to be held by all members of the group.
5. Certain members of the group protect those who are in positions of power or leadership.
It struck me that groupthink doesn’t always lead to outright harm: sometimes it manifests itself in hidden yet equally damaging ways. In our workplace, we sometimes (mistakenly) come to believe that the best we have to offer is found when we all get along and agree.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we should argue and bicker or that all conflict is good. But I do think that the way to get the most from our team members is to find out what their strengths are, to have opinions challenged, to consider all vantage points, to wrestle with ideas and to ask hard questions. This only happens when every team member’s ideas are considered, instead of following the loudest voice.
Groupthink occurs when group harmony is valued over critical analysis. Let’s not forget that both are important in allowing our organization to be simultaneously an enjoyable place to work and a productive business.
Check out my next blog, which will include some tips for avoiding groupthink on your team. In the meantime, we would love to hear your ideas on groupthink in the workplace.
This blog is a sample from an upcoming book ACHIEVE is publishing. The book will be released January 2019.
This book will draw heavily on “A Great Place to Work” Survey. We would love to hear your input.