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Groupthink

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Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of "mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment". Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.

Back to the situation above. After a few minutes of discussion we decided to talk to the group and explain that eliminating personal phones is like taking candy away from a child. While time consuming, it is better to teach good balanced eating habits than to take away something that the child will seek out once out of your sight. After all, we are not dealing with children and good sense should prevail if priorities are set and success is related to the priorities.

More important to me was why the group fell into Groupthink? Over the year, I have seen this behavior more times than I can keep track of and a cynic might say that the audience is ignorant or worse. In our society we even have clichés that describe the behavior. We say they were, 'Going along to get along' or 'Choosing the path of least resistanc.' So this article is not a call to arms implying that each of you dispute every point in a meeting or take a contrary approach every time someone has a suggestion.

Some ideas to consider:
To those who run decision making meetings:

  1. Have a clear decision-making process in place. Understand directive, consultative and collaborative approaches and the responsibility of each.
  2. Make sure that there is enough background and in-depth discussion about decisions so people are fully informed.
  3. Discuss the pros and cons of any group decision before deciding what to do.
  4. Know Groupthink when you see it and educate the group on it.
  5. Install a devil's advocate in your group to challenge any decision the group would like to make to test its relevance.

To those who attend and participate in decision-making meetings:

  1. Try to push beyond the inclination to agree. We all feel it and, if you can resist, you can trust your judgment.
  2. Squeeze your brain to think of alternatives to any suggestion.
  3. Return to organizational values or culture as a check on decisions being made.
  4. Get permission to pass in a "spin around" decision to allow time to watch others, listen to their rationale, and think.
  5. Trust your judgment if you think the group is moving too fast and ask the group to move more deliberately.

Groupthink can ruin your day and sour the participative process. I think it is because most of us like to avoid any sort of conflict and because we want to be seen as team players, especially, if someone of credibility makes a suggestion we feel compelled to agree. Decisions are a big piece of the morale of any organization and, the more involvement you can afford, the better. Time is also a factor it seems. Clearly, no one likes meetings and from the moment they arrive it is a race to get out the door and back to work. The truth is that meetings are the most important way to gather the collective power of all the good brains in the room.

Talk about Groupthink and make it part of the vocabulary of the organization and watch how it goes away as a problem.

Give me your thoughts and questions and I plan to fill the articles full of useful techniques to use right away. Have a happy Halloween and I will talk to you next month.

Best to all,

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