Teamwork and unity are always encouraged in any organisation. Employees working together is paramount to the success of the organisation. However, there is a downside to too much cooperation and cohesion, and that is groupthink.
Groupthink is a phenomenon in which the ways of approaching a problem or challenge are dealt with by the consensus of a group, rather than individuals thinking and acting independently.
Groupthink occurs when staff in an organization are more concerned about securing the approval of others than in challenging their co-workers to come up with breakthrough ideas, which are vital in order for an organization to be successful and to stand apart from the competition.
Groupthink can be illustrated as follows:
In groupthink instances, the people accept an idea as plausible, that is not-so-good, only for the purposes of maintaining harmony and coherence within their group. These people will opt for conformity rather than a critical discourse.
In groupthink situations, the team tends to focus its discussions on ideas that everyone is in agreement to, rather than ideas that everyone disagrees with. Groupthink gives team members greater confidence in their collective decisions, rather than their individual decisions, even though they may agree to something together that they would otherwise not agree to independently.
While welcoming differences of opinion often leads to stronger decision-making within an organisation; groupthink can be toxic to teams and organisations as it can stifle innovation and make employees feel pressured to conform.
Groupthink often happens when there is:
Irving Janis, a research psychologist at Yale University and a professor emeritus at the University of California, described the symptoms of groupthink as those that are inclusive of:
How can you recognise groupthink in your workplace?
It is important to observe your team’s morale and their current level of engagement, some signs that could signal groupthink in your workplace are:
Complacency or apathy
Your team members may appear to be uninterested in the decision-making process during team meetings. They may not care about the resolution of an issue or they don’t believe their input will change the outcome. However, they will still agree to the most popular decision at the end of the meeting. These employees rarely resist or offer any feedback in meetings.
It is not uncommon for individuals with the same background and life experience to create a uniform environment with employees who have the same viewpoints, this often contributes to groupthink. However, diversity among team members allows for new thoughts and ideas to be shared and considered, which can lead to successful solutions and further innovation.
Employees are less likely to provide their opinions in a climate of fear. Some team members may fear that they will be disciplined or lose their jobs altogether if they express thoughts, opinions or ideas contrary to the company’s beliefs or principles. In interacting with your team members, try to observe their body language when asking for their opinion, to gauge whether they appear apprehensive to give honest feedback.
Intimidating leaders can further contribute to the groupthink phenomenon. A leader may be considered intimidating if they present a know-it-all attitude in meetings. This will lead to team members being less likely to share their ideas if their supervisor neglects any and all alternative ideas or other points of view.
Without a doubt, maintaining individual thoughts in a group setting is as important as working as a group. Brainstorming different ideas and challenging each other as employees creates the type of environment that encourages growth and ensures that the organisation is always ahead of the curve.
Although working in a group is beneficial for everyone involved, the individuals still need to however maintain a sense of ‘self ‘in order to contribute effectively in any team. Below are a few ways to avoid Groupthink:
The organisational culture should be one that encourages healthy debates and differences in opinion. Ensure that the staff is aware that the sharing of ideas is encouraged in meetings. Celebrate diverse perspectives and encourage team members to provide their unfiltered input.
It is very common for employees to give what they receive. It’s therefore important for management to watch out for their own signals, ensuring that opinions that are different from those of the management team, are not dismissed. Management avoiding and discouraging intimidation of those with differing opinions, may translate positively to employees.
Having procedures in place and a clear template for discussion, such as an agenda is important in avoiding groupthink. Sharing your expectation from the beginning that employees are allowed to speak candidly, within the confines of professionalism.
While dissension and conflict are healthy, some employees may avoid it due to fear, this fear that can cause groupthink to rear its ugly head. When the chance avails itself, create spaces where employees can have brainstorming sessions on different issues. Allowing a creative and unpressured environment, where they can engage with those who are not part of the team, in order to get external and diverse views.
Ensure that staff are aware of the difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict by encouraging all healthy conflict.
It takes a group of different people to run a successful organisation. When hiring potential employees, you want to ensure that they are in line with company values, however, you additionally would like to know what role they will play in adding to the success of the organisation, as an individual. In hiring or promoting employees, do not look for clones or “yes people” who will agree with every suggestion or decision. Be aware of the fact that a diverse team can achieve alignment, without being uniform.
Maintaining that individualism encourages healthy teamwork and inspires confidence in employees, which will result in a well-rounded, successful organisation.
Although there may not be an ‘I’ in the word “Team”, individuality and diversity are not to be feared, contrary to that, they need to be embraced.
Groups cannot grow, unless individuals grow within the group.