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Entrepreneurs and team leaders often spend a lot of energy coordinating efforts and fostering a common organizational culture. For the most part, this is a good thing. Making your team members feel part of a cohesive team and setting universal expectations for how people in your business work and behave can lead to greater efficiency and more consistency.
However, if you try too hard to create a “hive mind” in your business or if you are too focused on your philosophies and goals, you could end up suffering from groupthink.
What exactly is groupthink And how can you protect your business from this potentially devastating phenomenon?
What is groupthink?
Groupthink refers to a specific phenomenon in which all (or almost all) members of a common group apparently agree on something, usually in a decision-making context.
Obviously, natural cohesion and agreement can occur. For example, if you have 10 team members in a meeting room, they may all agree on a company policy to require the use of seat belts while driving; it is a safe practice that is relatively uncontroversial and could result in increased employee safety.
The problem arises when the dynamics of a group begin to influence opinions. This can arise due to a number of different factors, such as bullying, manipulation, falsification of preferences and the false consensus effect . It can even happen if these team members spend so much time together in the same environment and with the same priorities that they begin to think alike.
If everyone on the team feels like they have to agree on a certain issue, or if they naturally think the same way, it can lead to massive problems for your business.
Related: 4 ways to be a better communicator and be more present in conversations
Why is groupthink bad?
What is the problem? Isn’t group agreement good?
Groupthink can lead to several problematic outcomes, including:
Strategic blind spots. If everyone thinks the same way, everyone will ignore the same blind spots, while reinforcing their certainty with a growing consensus. For example, everyone on your team may agree that investing more in a failed product is the right solution, even though they’re all victims of the sunk cost fallacy.
Reduced creativity and innovation. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that groupthink leads to reduced creativity and innovation. Truly creative solutions and novel product/solution ideas tend to come about when people deviate from the norm, rather than conform to it. If all your team members are stuck in the same mindset, you will never be able to escape.
suffocating atmospheres. Groupthink can also lead to stifling and uncomfortable work environments. If it seems like everyone is on the same page about a certain topic, you may feel like it’s not okay to disagree.
Lack of adaptability. Companies with a fixed mindset are definitely less adaptable. They are less agile and less able to respond adequately to new threats and challenges.
Related: 7 mindsets that guarantee lasting success
Strategies to prevent groupthink
What can your company do to avoid groupthink?
Prioritize diversity. To the extent possible, prioritize diversity in your hiring and when bringing team members together for collaborative projects. demographic diversity and diversity of thought they will fill your organization with people who think differently and have different perspectives.
Encourage vocal participation. In all your meetings and collaborative efforts, encourage the vocal participation of all members. If meetings typically have one person present an idea and the rest silently nod, you’re doing something wrong.
Entertain all ideas, no matter how bad. Keep an open mind and encourage your employees to express their ideas, no matter how ill-thought-out or impractical they may be. When people come up with ideas, take them seriously and treat them with kindness. This will foster an environment where more people are willing to speak up and share their thoughts.
Criticism and comments welcome. Some employees don’t address groupthink because they are afraid of what might happen to them if they violate the norm. The solution to this is to create an environment that welcomes criticism and feedback; make employees feel comfortable sharing their counterpoints.
Reward your brightest innovators. When employees come up with creative and inventive ideas, be sure to reward them. Not only will this provide positive reinforcement to the people generating the ideas, but it will also incentivize other parties to regularly present their best ideas to the group.
Make use of anonymous employee surveys. Some employees may feel uncomfortable deviating from the norm no matter what other measures you have in place. To make sure they still have the ability to voice their perspectives and concerns, use anonymous surveys.
In low-risk contexts and in small doses, groupthink can be really helpful. But excessive or invasive groupthink could be a death sentence. Learn to recognize groupthink early and take steps to counter it before it starts to affect your business.
Related: How ‘groupthink’ can cost your business (and 3 corporate examples)