Groupthink is Dangerous. Here’s How To Spot it And 9 Ways to Avoid It

Innovation has many enemies, but the most difficult ones to overcome are expertise and groupthink. The latter, is particularly difficult to overcome because it encompasses a group.

What is groupthink? Groupthink is when individuals in the group suppress their personal beliefs or opinions which results in reaching a less than ideal group consensus. And, consensus is what you want to avoid because it doesn’t necessarily drive better decisions.

We’ve all experienced groupthink, and we contribute to it. How do I know when groupthink is happening?

Here are 6 Symptoms of groupthink:

  1. Silence is treated as agreement
  2. People avoid conflict
  3. Leaders dominate the conversation
  4. Contrary opinions are explained away
  5. Negative stereotypes of outsiders are prevalent
  6. Some appear uninterested and don’t speak up

Do these sound familiar?

9 ways to avoid Groupthink

How can you avoid the pull of groupthink? Below are 9 ways to avoid it:

  1. Structure meetings;
  2. Encourage ideas from everyone;
  3. Build a diverse team;
  4. Ask the right questions;
  5. Seek outside perspectives;
  6. Expect and encourage conflict;
  7. Engage those who don’t speak up;
  8. Assign a devil’s advocate before the meeting;
  9. Provide an opportunity for post-meeting discussion.

Let’s look at each below:

Structure meetings

  • Set the agenda, scope, and boundaries before the meeting
  • Start by announcing the expectation of conflict
  • Hold leader comments till last
  • Require everyone to talk

Encourage all ideas

When someone brings up an idea, thank them for the idea and complement it. This shows that all ideas are good and that there is safety in bringing something unique to the table.

Build a diverse team

Diversity in age, gender, race, personality, and life experience ensures you include different perspectives. Study after study has shown that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones.

Ask the right questions

View yourself as the chief question asker. Why? Because asking questions shows interest, encourages sharing, builds up the idea sharer, draws out more information. Ask questions that force critical thinking.

Seek outside perspectives

An outsider brings an objective opinion which can help clarify the strengths and weaknesses of an idea. If they bring up ideas the group hasn’t considered, allow them to attend the meeting and present their idea.

Expect and encourage conflict

When conflict is not encouraged, it’s implicitly discouraged. Remind the team that conflict is expected and encourage constructive conflict as it happens.

Engage those who don’t speak up

It’s your job to make sure everyone is engaged. Ask them direct questions to those not speaking up and meet with them after the meeting to reinforce the expectations, if necessary.

Assign a devil’s advocate before the meeting

If a team is too agreeable, a devil’s advocate can get the juices flowing. Pick someone with a contrary opinion and let them know you expect them speak out. You can also split the group and force them to defend a specific side.

Provide an opportunity for post-meeting discussion

After the meeting record and report the outcome. See who did and didn’t descent in the meeting and follow-up individually to assure everyone was heard. If you chase after consensus, you likely encourage groupthink. That’s why I’m a big fan of Jeff Bezo’s idea of “disagree and commit.” When you build enough trust to disagree but cheer each other on, you have a chance to build something special.

Bottom line: Groupthink is as common as the sun shinning everyday; it’s dangerous because it affects the effectiveness of your decisions. You have to actively combat it to make better decisions.