Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Overcoming and Preventing Groupthink

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Overcoming and preventing groupthink tendencies requires leaders’ constant diligence and continual attention. For constructive thinking to occur within team environments, individuals must possess high degrees of like-mindedness regarding the basic values and mutual respect needed for their teams to succeed. This requires a level of cohesiveness, where personalities become blended and balanced through common missions and purposes.

As leaders attempt to tackle the complicated issues surrounding groupthink, they should be cognizant of the critical evaluator roles all team members assume. They need to understand the constant hazards associated with issues that require rapid action, such as prolonged debates, or with open criticism that potentially leads to damaged feelings, especially when team members resolutely live up to their roles as critical evaluators. Feelings of rejection, depression and anger might be evoked when challenging particular team decisions. This can have a corrosive effect on team morale and working relationships.

It is important for leaders to understand both the negative and positive consequences associated with individual personalities when it comes to dealing with complex groupthink issues. The personality mix of individual team members determines and impacts subsequent team environments and group dynamics. The addition or removal of individual team members tends to greatly impact team environments and their interrelated dynamics.

There are specific strategies to prevent and overcome groupthink tendencies. These can also be implemented when particular individuals are actively decreasing overall team effectiveness.

Create Subgroups

Leaders may need to periodically create subgroups that meet separately under different group leaders to work on the same general team problems. This method creates contrastive team environments with varied personality mixes for arriving at separate conclusions. Once these subgroups have each arrived at a separate consensus, they should all be brought together as a unified team to present their findings and negotiate specific differences.

Consult with Other Associates

Leaders should discuss their teams’ deliberations with trusted associates in their organization. These individuals should possess different expertise, outlooks and values. Once identified, they are expected to make independent evaluations and critiques of team progress. They should be able to offer fresh perspectives and possible solutions that may have been overlooked.

Leaders should then report back to their teams on these in-depth discussions and incorporate newly acquired ideas and recommendations into their teams’ deliberation processes.

Invite Outside Expertise

Leaders should periodically introduce outside expertise into their team environments. This expertise can come from individuals who are trusted associates in their own organizations. They should be selected because of their inherent capacity to grasp new ideas quickly, their ability to identify hidden agendas, their sensitivity to moral and ethical issues and their verbal skills to effectively communicate criticism directly to the teams involved.

Regularly Rotate the Role of Devil’s Advocate

While the role of devil’s advocate is institutionalized in most team environments, leaders should assign the role to a different individual for each team meeting. This rotation gives all team members the opportunity to actively challenge the consensus of the majority at, instead of after, a team meeting.

Spend Time on Surveying Warning Signs

In order to counteract their team’s illusions of invulnerability and tendency to ignore warning signs that interfere with member complacency, leaders may need to make a concerted effort to induce both themselves and team members to pay specific attention to special risks and make appropriate contingency plans accordingly.

Even when team members are assigned specific roles to point out the potential risks that the group needs to consider, they are likely to disregard any warnings if there is a preexisting consensus among the members. Therefore it is critical for leaders to invest time and energy to address specific warning signs that may otherwise go unrecognized because of individual teams succumbing to a groupthink mode.

Holding a Second Consensus Meeting

In order to prevent premature consensus based on feelings of invulnerability, stereotypes and unexamined assumptions, second meetings should be scheduled before individual teams make actual commitments and after they have arrived at their initial consensus. When teams arrive at a consensus, leaders should announce this second meeting, providing individual members with a sufficient amount of time to ponder and reconsider their deliberations, discussions and solutions.

Members should be encouraged to play devil’s advocate and express all residual doubts and rethink entire issues before making any definitive decisions. They should be encouraged to challenge their own arguments and fully disclose and discuss all related risks and objections. Individual team members should present any and all possible objections that have not been previously discussed and explored.

To facilitate discussions, team members should be encouraged to prepare one to two-page documents ahead of time to stimulate open dialogues. These documents need to be collected, copied and disseminated to all team members at the second consensus meeting.

Team secretaries should compile and summarize all key points into a formal document that is given to all members, including the supporting documentation that every individual team member initially provided. This process ensures full disclosure and discussion of all key points, doubts and objections that were not originally brought up prior to the team consensus.

Related:

Five Pitfalls Teams Need to Avoid

How Do Know If Your Teams Are Remaining Strong & Productive

Seven Negative Roles & Behaviors Which Undermine Team Performance

Excerpt: Personality Differences within the Team Setting: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

January 28, 2013 at 10:39 am

5 Responses

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  1. Hi Tim,
    I perceive there is a lot of wisdom in your blog. Allow me to add a few additional points of value and reference.
    1. This process feels a bit formal to me yet in larger companies teams that are in it for the long haul need to start out slower and more conscious of good form in group think. I experienced work like this when in HP.
    2. For startups and fast organizations this would need a leaner version. I am working on that now by applying a problem solving, collaborative patented technology and engagement approach applied now by Harvard.
    3. Those schooled in critical thinking and possibility or outcome thinking and DeBono’s Six Hats do very well in group think environs whereas most others do not.
    4. Every group has natural risk takers and risk adverse people, creative and process people, and both critical question askers and what if value extenders. The leader may find it more practical to look for all these attributes and pull what they can instead of expecting conformity to one process..
    Still, I enjoyed your post and wish you great success with it.

    Bill

    Bill Van Eron

    January 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm

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