A team that prides itself on its ability to get along and on its lack of conflict can be in danger of falling into a “groupthink” mindset. This means that critical thought is discouraged, and members of the team can censor themselves by not bringing forward differing points of view which might cause disagreement. Ideas are readily accepted without careful consideration of the opposing point of view, and often those members who may raise dissenting information can be pressured into conforming. The cohesion of the team is valued above critical thinking. This situation leads to really bad decision making.

So how does a team leader recognise that “groupthink’ is becoming a problem?

· When an idea is proposed or a point of view outlined by someone with power or authority on the team, the discussion only focuses on why that point of view or idea is right. There are no objections and insufficient examination of risks or weaknesses.

· When considering ideas or suggestions there are no alternative proposals offered.

· OR when alternatives are suggested they are dismissed without critical appraisal.

· Options which have been rejected are never brought up again for a review.

· Information that might challenge the accepted idea or point of view is not actively researched. The general consensus is that the team has all the information it needs.

There are a number of factors which may encourage the development of ‘groupthink’. These were outlined by Irving Janis, who first developed the theory. He found that the following conditions often exist where ‘groupthink’ develops:

· The team consists of members who have similar backgrounds, experience or beliefs. This group will often consider a high level of agreement to be more important that in-depth discussion and consider that disagreements should be actively repressed.

· The team is isolated from sources of information that may contradict its group consensus. This isolation may be self-imposed.

· The team leader leads the discussion putting their point of view or ideas across early in the discussion, rather than waiting until the team has developed their responses to the situation or problem.

· The team leader seeks only approval of their ideas rather than in-depth discussion. This encourages members to agree with the leader rather than engage in critical thinking. If the team leader actively represses discussion on their ideas, members will believe that their input is not valued and ‘groupthink’ will evolve as a consequence.

· There are no methods or procedure in place that require opposing points of view to be canvassed. Black Hat Thinking is discouraged. There is no requirement for information to be researched and all options to be examined through reality checking. Hence, the team works from a closed environment that supports the status quo.

If it becomes obvious that our team has started to exhibit any of these conditions or symptoms we may have a problem with ‘groupthink’. Opposing points of view, even conflicting ideas which generate heated discussion, are a valuable contribution to reaching a workable solution that has been critically appraised and has a real possibility of working in the real world.

So what can we do if we have identified that ‘groupthink’ may be a problem in our team? I will look at ways we can prevent this dread disease infecting our teams, on Friday.

Michele @ Trischel

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