Developing Ideas: How to Avoid Groupthink

by Greg DePersio

2 min read

Groupthink is a social phenomenon that cripples effective decision making in team settings. The desire for harmony and unity leads group members to gravitate to similar ideas, and no one is willing to rock the boat and put different proposals on the table.Imagine that a business is seeking new lead generation methods. It brings in a team of salespeople to brainstorm ideas. The alpha of the group immediately states his idea in a commanding, confident voice. He says, “I think everyone else will agree,” nodding at his cohorts for affirmation. Several of the salespeople have different ideas, but they keep them to themselves, not wanting to upset the tone of the meeting established by the alpha.

Groupthink Symptoms

Groupthink stifles business creativity, undermines productivity, and fails to create an environment that motivates team members to grow and innovate. The reason for bringing team members together for brainstorming sessions is to establish a robust marketplace of ideas. This is how the best ideas prevail in productive group settings. Everyone puts their idea on the table, all of which are given equal weight in the discussion and analysis process. Groupthink hampers this process by preventing the marketplace of ideas from flourishing. The group consolidates around a singular idea, even if the idea isn’t the best way forward.When groupthink sets in, it wastes everyone’s time. There’s no reason to bring 10 people into a decision-making process to glean one solitary idea from the group. The other nine people are effectively taking up space. If you aren’t proactive about eliminating groupthink, it can take hold and prevent your team from being productive.

Pre-Meeting Brainstorming

Businesses have a few options to prevent groupthink from invading their next team strategy session. One of the most effective techniques is to have team members brainstorm on their own before coming to the meeting. Have them either write their ideas down on paper or email them to the person in charge of the meeting. This way, you’re more likely to end up with a diversity of ideas that the entire group can discuss at the meeting. No idea gets held back because its owner doesn’t want to upset the group dynamic.Of course, you still have the potential issue of the group gravitating toward one or two ideas and discounting the others without proper consideration. You can avoid this by giving the meeting structure. Rather than making the group discussion a free-for-all, establish a framework for analyzing each idea and comparing its pros and cons.

Bringing In Experts

Another remedy for groupthink is to bring in experts to challenge the ideas of group members. This can be particularly effective if your group has an alpha who tends to overpower the others and stifle their competing views with peer pressure. By having the expert usurp the role of group alpha, it empowers the rest of the group members to give their opinions without fear of upsetting the one person who typically dominates. Just be sure that your expert treats everyone as equals and offers both praise and constructive criticism for each idea brought forth.Groupthink stifles innovation and destroys creativity, and if you’re not careful, it can take hold in your team strategy sessions. By recognizing its symptoms and taking proactive steps to avoid it, you can banish groupthink from your team.

References & Resources

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