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Masterclass: How to crack down on groupthink

13 Nov 2017 By Dr Gayle Brewer

Ensuring team dynamics are not the key drivers of decision-making processes

Groupthink occurs when the dynamics of the group itself are driving the decision-making. It might be because it is excluding external voices, or not listening to those who are being critical, or because the group’s homogeneity is resulting in similar positions being taken on issues.

There could be a range of factors behind it. It might be a reflection of the recruitment process, or because an organisation doesn’t reward people for voicing opposing opinions – or actively shuts down people who are dissenting from the party line. This kind of situation can result in employee disengagement and an acceptance to just go along with the dominant view. There are several negative implications of this: the company is unlikely to look at any limitations of the agreed approach, be aware of any potential failing or be alert to threats, and may be blind to new opportunities.

Thankfully, there are measures a businesses can put in place to avoid the constraints of groupthink. First, ensure your meetings are open, with employees actively encouraged to identify any weaknesses with proposed approaches and think about how they could be addressed. But organisations need to make sure they stick to this approach, rather than just saying they will listen to alternative views and then dismissing them.

It can be useful to allow people, regardless of their status, to have an input, rather than keeping decision-making the preserve of managers. However, it’s not always easy for people to be critical, or even to put forward their opinion on a subject, so when they do their opinion should be appreciated and taken on board; even if it’s not an idea that will work, it’s useful to tell them why, so they at least know that it has been considered.

Decision-makers should also take a step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s tempting to follow a pre-agreed plan of action without thinking about whether it is the most appropriate thing to do. We often assume the way we do things is the only way we can do them, without asking why we are even doing them in the first place.

Recruiting a more diverse workforce is an effective way of bringing in different opinions and experiences. Encouraging multi-disciplinary working can also be beneficial because it often brings a fresh perspective, helping employees look at problems from a different angle.

Ultimately, the decision to encourage diverse and wide-ranging opinions needs to be taken at the top – but it is something the whole organisation needs to buy into if there is to be a shift in culture.

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