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How to Counter Groupthink

The alternative to continuous disagreement on a team is groupthink. You want the team to work well together, but you also want members of the group to feel free to share their viewpoints.

Groupthink can be fostered by managers who discourage dissent, or it can develop under leaders who respond to an employee’s idea with so much praise that pretty soon everyone is behind the idea. Most of the time, groupthink pops up quickly and wreaks havoc before anyone realizes what’s going on.

There are seven steps to countering groupthink:

1. Reward critical thinking. Go out of your way to invite thoughtful criticism of new proposals. As leader, if they are your proposals, you might go so far as to appoint a “devil’s advocate” to attack your idea. If one person is given the chance to point out weaknesses, others are more likely to do so.

2. Do not mistake silence for consent. Don’t assume that quiet or silent members at a meeting are in agreement. As a meeting chairperson, go out of your way to draw them into the discussion—even to the point of asking them if they agree with the discussion to date.

3. Divide the group into subgroups to crique new ideas. People who hesitate to speak in large group settings may be more comfortable about sharing their misgivings in a smaller meeting group.

4. Don’t state your opinion too early. Staff members, especially those new to the division, will be reluctant to criticize what you have endorsed. If you are serious about getting others’ viewpoint, present the idea as one approach. Ask for other suggestions. If you’ve already decided to move ahead with your new idea, regardless of staff member opinion, it is a waste of time tohold a meeting for the purpose evaluating the idea. Your goal, then, should be to get the team to come up with ways to make it happen.

5. Give meeting participants time to think through major proposals. After initial enthusiasm wears off, they are much more likely to spot problems and weaknesses.