Strategies that fail to deliver on their promises are often built upon flawed logic and / or incorrect underlying assumptions. It is strikingly apparent that flawed strategies can be the result of groupthink. So what is groupthink and what can be done to reverse it? Psychologist Irving Janis, a widely-recognized authority on the subject, defined groupthink as, “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”
Groupthink feeds on fear and intimidation. It manifests itself in the parroting of ideas and supporting of the popular platform, all without individual critical evaluation taking place. Individuals who express disagreement with, or doubt about the majority view feel pressure to conform. They may feel that their dissent is contrary to the expected behavior of loyal group members, so it easier to go along with the crowd than to instigate a discussion that challenges the group’s support of an idea. As a result, the question “Why do you believe that?” often goes unasked and unanswered. When groupthink occurs, “Why?”, “what if…?” or “are we sure?” are replaced by words like“sounds good to me” or other such passive responses. Groupthink stifles critical evaluation and can derail us from achieving the best possible outcomes in our business.
Methods to Stop Groupthink
- In group meetings, use flip charts to list ideas and have each person use sticky notes to vote on their favorite option. Once voting has been completed, have each person explain why they voted the way they did. This will encourage discussion and might cause some to change their position once they have heard arguments for someone else’s idea.
- Regularly expose the group members to other points of view. This can be done by rotating responsibility to different group members to take on the role of playing devil’s advocate.
- Bring in outside facilitators to run meetings. They are trained to involve everyone and solicit input from shy or reserved group members. They can also help moderate the discussion to truly gain an unbiased consensus and not allow the loudest voice in the room to dominate in debates.
- Split groups up into teams and have them come up with a list of pros and cons for each idea that they will present back to the entire group.
- Exercise creative thinking by playing war games, simulating your competitor’s response to your own strategy. Visualize their likely tactics, as this will harden ideas and open the door for improvement in your group’s thinking.
- Invite in outside subject-matter experts to present their knowledge. This technique will either help confirm your group’s thinking or will open up new dimensions of thought and help your team’s ideas become more robust.
- Encourage and foster open dialogue. Groupthink can be cultural in nature, so it begins with your leadership’s attitude toward embracing critical evaluation in group settings.
In the world of business we have an obligation to challenge and improve ideas, especially when it comes to our strategy. Debate challenges us to think through other dimensions of ideas and improve upon them as needed. It helps identify potentially risky or harmful strategies that could have long term impacts on the business. Fear of being cast out of the in-group holds back the natural challenges that should emerge from our team. The fact is, all ideas need to be challenged – even seemingly good ones. As leaders, we are responsible for promoting open discussion to break the groupthink cycle.