Any manager would be smart to preach and praise things like teamwork, unity and collaboration, right? But what happens when these values become more important than solving problems? What happens when consensus, harmony and cohesion are put above critical analysis, diversified opinions and ultimately, innovation?
This is known as ‘groupthink’, a term first used to explain the tendency for groups to make poorly thought-out or rash decisions, due to a lack of dissenting opinion and a desire to maintain group unity. In an effort to maintain peace within a group or environment, members may silence their personal opinions or censor their doubts.
Many historians would warn us of the dangers of groupthink – the greatest atrocities of war and failures of mankind have the workings of groupthink behind them. But we don’t have to look too far to see the effects it can have on social culture and on business. If we look at something like fake news, or even social media and the mass input we receive from trends, like vines, or even something like the “Ice Bucket Challenge”, there is this tendency to believe or follow simply because, “if everyone does/shares/thinks it, it must be right”
.But for us, this would mean the death of innovation, and informed decision making. So how do we spot groupthink before it becomes a problem? How do we know what to look for, so that we can take active steps to raise employees’ voices and, ultimately, arrive at better-informed choices? How do we avoid the stereotyping, censorship, complacency and illusion of unanimity that causes groupthink, and the stagnation and disaster that can ensue once it takes hold?
The three major signs that groups may not be soliciting enough input are: when groups are quick to agree with the leader, when people are asked to dissent publicly and when there is no clear devil’s advocate. As leaders, we should take notice when there is a rush to consensus, and pause to ask for alternative perspectives that may be being overlooked. We should provide a space for dissenting views to be shared in private or anonymously to avoid conformity and encourage authentic conversation. We should intentionally assign one or more people to take on the role of devil’s advocate, or ensure that there is enough diversity within the room to provide for a difference in opinion.
We need the voices who speak up and speak out, who question, challenge and analyse. They help us make better decisions, become better leaders and think on a broader scale, so that our businesses can make innovative decisions that catapult us into the future. Here at KDZA, we need you, to ask questions, give us feedback, engage with us on all our social media channels and talk to us about things you believe we should and should not be doing. Let’s kill groupthink together.