Groupthink Defined – And Why It’s a Bad Thing for Your Business Leadership
“Groupthink” is a term originally created by psychologist Irving L. Janis. Janis defines groupthink as a human tendency to want to seek group consensus at any cost. He says groupthink happens when people seek universal agreement around an issue – even at the risk of other potentially negative consequences – all for the sake of seeking some semblance of consensus.
It’s not that genuine consensus is necessarily a bad thing. If all members of your team are truly in agreement about the best course of action to follow in a particular situation, that can certainly be taken as a positive vote of confidence. But the best leaders also understand that simply surrounding yourself with “yes men” and “yes women” isn’t the best way to lead a company. Thought leader Simon Sinek says that in a healthier organizational culture, honest feedback, collaboration, and two-way communication are seen as tools for real growth. We need to create cultures in which everyone believes feedback is for their benefit, so they’ll be more likely to hear it, grow from it, and ultimately help the organization grow, too.
5 Tips for Avoiding Groupthink in Your Organization
So, how can you work towards avoiding a groupthink mentality? Here are a few good tips:
1. Hire for a greater diversity of abilities and perspectives
Don’t just hire or promote folks who already think like you and know the same things you know. Recognize the benefits of choosing to surround yourself with a diversity of viewpoints. The best leaders hire for folks who can bring something new to the team, and add to the team’s breadth and depth.
2. Set a clear agenda for meetings, and communicate it ahead of time
By setting a clear agenda with clear talking points to address, you’ll make your meetings much more productive. Nobody likes “meeting just to meet,” or spinning their wheels in a meeting that doesn’t seem to have a clear purpose. And by communicating the agenda ahead of time, you’ll help your team members to plan their contributions and feel better prepared to share once the meeting starts.
3. Structure meetings to encourage idea sharing and listening
Start by asking each person to bring at least two ideas to every meeting, and give each team member an opportunity to speak. Don’t let just one or two people dominate the conversation, and be willing to be comfortable with occasional moments of silence. Sometimes, the silent moments are when the best ideas are born!
4. Play devil’s advocate
The point here isn’t just to try and shoot holes in every idea that’s presented – that approach will actually discourage your folks from sharing any more ideas in the future! Rather, the idea is to always be willing to argue the other side to help visualize the pros and cons more objectively. In the event that you feel the group is perhaps being swayed unfairly, or is starting to fall into an unhealthy groupthink mindset, that’s a great time to play devil’s advocate.
5. Always try to develop a plan B
Even if you feel the group has made the best decision based upon all the available information you have, it’s still wise to come up with a good plan B. Some decisions can eventually fall short, not because they were bad decisions, but because new information came to light later, which the group was not prepared to incorporate. Coming up with a plan B takes a little more work, but it’s certainly worth the effort if it helps you to avoid having to face a bigger problem later.
Keep Your Team Connected and Avoid Groupthink with Effective Video Conferencing
Remote work existed before the pandemic, but it’s become much more prevalent in recent months and years. Forward-thinking businesses need to have the ability to connect with employees and teams no matter where they’re located. With modern video conferencing technology, you can keep your team connected with ease. Here are some tips for helping to make your virtual meetings as productive as possible:
- Check your internet connection, and test your technology to make sure everything’s working properly.
- Dress professionally. By “professionally,” we mean dress according to whatever standards would be expected by your company for an in-office meeting.
- Give as much preparation for a virtual meeting as you would for an in-person meeting.
- Remove any clutter or distractions from your immediate space. One beauty of modern virtual technology is the fact that you can connect to a meeting almost anywhere – in your car, in a hotel lobby, in a local coffee shop, in your bedroom, or even out in a more exotic location. Just be intentional about not creating any distractions for yourself, or for others who will be joining in on the meeting.
- Organize your desktop before sharing your screen. If you’ll be doing any screen sharing from your laptop or other computer, don’t leave anything embarrassing to see on your desktop, like a personal Slack conversation or some questionable tab you’ve left open.
- Silence your phone, and turn off your notifications. You really don’t want to receive any interrupting alerts or other annoying pings from either your phone or your computer while trying to be 100% present for your virtual meeting.
- Mute yourself whenever you’re not speaking. It’s really the cardinal rule of video conferencing etiquette. Don’t be one of those people that the meeting facilitator has to tell to “mute your mic, please.” Just mute yourself whenever you’re listening, and unmute when you have something to say. It’s really that simple.
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