Most of us know groupthink is the situation where people in meetings are pressured to agree with the stance championed by the most senior executive. We know it occurs when consensus is considered more valuable than asking questions, challenging the status quo, or expressing unpopular opinions. What is insidious about it is how it guarantees people will accept conclusions they believe are incorrect or invalid and thus learn to avoid thinking critically about any issue, situation, or decision. The more organizations you work with, the more common you find this to be.
We have seen leaders who say they have eliminated groupthink by making fact-based decisions. What most of them fail to recognize is their facts aren’t really facts at all. Too many leaders have been manipulated by companies whose primary goal is pleasing their clients. The best way for the less ethical ones to do this is by learning what executives hope to find and then providing exactly that. Harvard Business Review says too many leaders shoot themselves in the foot by revealing their personal biases up front.
There are hundreds of advisors who provide paint-by-number lists of what leaders can do to overcome groupthink.
We found most of them easy to say but hard to implement. A particular favorite is when they suggest leaders should encourage their staffs to speak openly. This sounds to us like when your mother said it’s okay to say you don’t like the gift she gave you and would prefer something else. Yeah, sure; ask anyone who has tried it.
So what do you think does work?
- Start by realizing groupthink is a constant danger and actively make plans to deal with it.
- Don’t encourage people to speak their minds – insist on it – and reward them when they do.
- Break up large teams into smaller teams. If you still get groupthink, you’ll at least get different ones.
- Never state your opinions first. Follow the policy of the U.S. military, who has people state their opinions in reverse order of rank, saving the boss’ comments for last.
And for braver souls?
Ask people to tell you something you need to know, won’t like to hear, and others won’t tell them.