How to Prevent and Overcome Groupthink in 5 Steps

videoconference call illustrating groupthink

When you’re lean, your momentum and success rely on a small group of people being able to design and test solutions to a wide variety of challenges. Even if everyone has the solutions-oriented mindset, you must be aware of an inherent challenge facing a collaborative team: how to prevent groupthink.

Groupthink is the psychological phenomenon that causes a team to minimize conflict, avoid critical evaluation and ultimately, conform to a group thought process. Basically, your team denies that it comprises individuals who each have unique experiences and expertise, and establishes a streamlined way of thought. This groupthink results in overconfidence in poorly evaluated ideas — and can seriously impair your group’s ability to even recognize opportunities for testing, expansion or evolution.

How to Prevent Groupthink

In a lean organization, you must consciously combat groupthink. Here are five strategies for doing so:

1.  Recruit a Diverse Team

In lean organizations, each person is critically important. When holding an interview, spend time talking about more than their resume; learn their story. How will they add to the diversity of interests, experiences, passions and positions represented?

2.  Organize Your Space

“Collaborative workspace” is the popular term celebrated by organizations who are taking down the cubicle walls and encouraging people to talk to one another. While great for team building, people in offices also need a space to go when they need to be alone.

Depending on the size of your space, creation of these “Alone With My Thoughts” spaces may be in the form of converted offices, installed sheds or a hammock and headphones in the corner. The size of the space doesn’t matter. What is important is communicating physically that your organization values independent thought.

3.  Make Time for Independent Evaluation

Susan Cain has advocated that the modern work environment is better suited for extroverts because brainstorming, sharing and decision making are primarily meeting activities. While introverts may have a particularly rough time, using meetings as a primary form of discussion means that your team cannot independently evaluate an issue.

Communicate challenges in advance. Post them on a “Consider This” virtual and/or physical wall or send out in an email. Regardless of what method you use, encourage every person to develop an idea in advance of a meeting. This will both give them time to do so in a thoughtful manner and communicate to your team that you value each of their ideas.

4.  Encourage Personal and Professional Development to Avoid Groupthink

Diversity strategies should be as much of a consideration for current team members as it is in recruitment. If everyone reads the same articles, attends the same conferences, and experiences the same interactions and outcomes, how will your organization maintain diversity of thought? And if your team is not encouraged to explore new ideas and interests, how will they continue to develop their strategic outlook?

Implement both team and individual development initiatives to encourage your team to constantly work to think better. Shared experiences could include each team member presenting a PechaKucha on one of their unique interests or by partnering with an organization like The Remarkables to expose your team to how extraordinary people think.

While individual development is (and should be) a voluntary activity, you can encourage and provide opportunities for it. Post interesting content, webinars and books, regardless of whether they relate to your industry, in a place where everyone can access them. If possible, set up a “Think Better” budget, which team members can use on anything they think will improve their perspective.

5.  Celebrate Diverse Perspectives

Most importantly, celebrate the strategic mind of each team member. Demand discussion by always asking “why” when someone proposes something new. Encourage constructive debate. Highlight where an individual’s experience better informed a strategy (e.g., a test design, marketing copy).

Afflicted with groupthink, your team will rarely challenge itself. In a lean organization, challenge and diversity are vital. Recognize the value of each team member and make a conscious effort to remind them to do the same!

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