Discover common symptoms and results of groupthink at work — plus how getting outside opinions and other strategies can help prevent it at your organization.
Groupthink is an all-too-common problem in the workplace. If you’re not familiar with the term, groupthink refers to a general agreement or consensus within a group. Former Yale University research psychologist Irving L. Janis conducted extensive studies on this phenomenon, and published his results in his 1972 book “Victims of Groupthink.”
Groupthink removes creativity and individuality from the decision-making process, and has teams gravitate toward decisions that avoid conflict. Groupthink mentality often results in peer pressure to take action despite obvious warning signs.
Ultimately, this results in poor performance and sometimes disastrous outcomes. It’s a toxic and dangerous problem, so let’s explore the problem of groupthink at work and what you can do to deal with it.
An extreme groupthink example
A tragic example of groupthink in business is the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. Although launch day temperatures were extremely low, NASA decided not to reschedule the launch. This was in opposition to a known fact that the O-rings only worked properly at temperatures above 53 degrees.
The Rogers Commission investigation of the Challenger accident discovered a complete lack of communication among various team members. Misinformation made its way to engineers and chief decision-makers with disastrous results.
Why is groupthink bad for teams?
What are the dangers involved with groupthink at work and how does it cause bad business decisions? Some of the top dangers of groupthink in the workplace include:
- Members may hold a distorted view of reality. This includes ignoring important information and resistance to new ideas or information.
In a study published on LinkedIn, IE University President Santiago Iniguez mentions how group members on teams with an overly strong leader often sit back and let someone else do all the hard work.
- Fear of being expelled from the group can lead to general neglect of ethical issues and lack of moral judgment.
- A Harvard Business Review report discussed how groupthink tends to stifle innovation as employees feel pressure to conform to the general group consensus.
Groupthink strives to maintain the status quo and doesn’t welcome differences of opinion. This can compromise the group’s ability to make the best decision to solve a problem. Before discussing possible solutions, you first need to know what are the symptoms of groupthink in the workplace.
Groupthink strives to maintain the status quo and doesn’t welcome differences of opinion. This can compromise the group’s ability to make the best decision to solve a problem.
Groupthink symptoms at work
Janis devised 8 characteristics or common results of groupthink.
1. Illusion of invulnerability
Not voicing alternative opinions during meetings lead group members to believe they are right. This results in excessive optimism within the group, which encourages risk-taking behavior.
2. Collective rationalization
Members of the team explain away any ideas that go against the team’s thinking. This behavior leads to group members ignoring obvious warning signs of potential danger.
3. Peer pressure
Put simply, peer pressure, or herd mentality, is the power of others to influence the actions of individuals. Anyone who asks questions about the group’s decisions is seen as being disloyal. This results in direct pressure on any dissenters to conform to the majority view.
4. Moral high ground or illusion of morality
Under the sway of groupthink, team members may hold unquestioned beliefs that all decisions are morally correct. This leads to ignoring the ethical consequences of any bad decisions.
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5. Excessive stereotyping
This symptom refers to the characteristic of group members creating negative stereotypes for anyone outside of the group. This causes the team to ignore anyone who challenges the group’s ideas.
An Indeed career development study reported how self-censorship is one of the top signs of groupthink in the workplace. You know self-censorship is occurring when individual members of your team are silent. They stay quiet and don’t speak up against any information that goes against the ideas of the group.
Self-appointed “mindguards” act as a type of information filter and limit the amount of information shared with the group. They help steer the decision-making process toward a specific outcome. The range of possibilities is limited because the rest of the team doesn’t have all the facts.
8. Illusion of unanimity
In many cases of groupthink at work, every member of the team thinks everyone is on the same page. Since no one speaks out to voice their opinion, the rest of the team stays silent. Simply put, silence is consent. If you don’t disagree with the group, this means you agree.
How to avoid groupthink on your team
How can you create a culture of collaboration without leading to groupthink? You need to discover ways to promote individuality and creative thinking within your team. Here are a few examples of how to avoid groupthink at your organization.
Keep your ideas to yourself — at least at first
Encourage creative thinking and the sharing of individual ideas with each member of your team. The rest of the team needs to know that challenging ideas and different opinions are actually a sign of a healthy company.
Oftentimes, there is one member of the group that is more dominant than others. If you are the group leader, it sometimes helps to keep your ideas to yourself, at least at first. Before sharing your opinion, consider all alternatives and optional solutions.
Encourage creative thinking and the sharing of individual ideas with each member of your team. The rest of the team needs to know that challenging ideas and different opinions are actually a sign of a healthy company. Work on encouraging member participation during meetings so no single idea dominates the conversation.
Get an outsider’s opinion
Hiring a diverse team made up of creative personalities with different experiences is the best way to encourage the sharing of ideas. But, when all else fails, it may be time to get an outsider’s opinion.
When you need a distinct voice, consider bringing in subject matter experts who can speak to the problem at hand. You can also invite employees from other departments into the group to shake things up. These experts that aren’t already part of your group bring a fresh perspective and new ideas.
Team building strategies
With a bit of due diligence, you can help avoid common groupthink pitfalls at your organization. Implementing effective team building strategies is key to creating a strong workforce.
Strong teams foster connections among members, encourage collaboration, and forge a culture of trust. Team members who feel safe and supported at work are more likely to share opinions and not keep their ideas to themselves.