The Danger of Groupthink

Ever had the experience of giving in to the majority opinion when you really didn’t agree? We all have. There is something in human nature that makes us succumb to the pressure exerted by groups.

How Does this Happen?

Imagine you are in a business meeting. Present are the person you report to as well as several other managers. The group is attempting to make a crucial decision that will significantly impact the future of the company. Everyone has tried to voice their thoughts, some more forcefully than others. Eventually as a result of someone’s strong attitude or even the position they hold, people begin to move toward that individual’s viewpoint.

Groupthink

In the scenario above, what often has happened is that groupthink has taken over what was intended to be a serious discussion. A simple definition of groupthink is that “A group makes the incorrect decision because pressure is exerted on members of the group. This leads to poor decision making as people begin to drop their objections, even if they are based on the reality of the situation and even moral concerns” In a sense, the decision process has lost its validity because it is now more of a dictatorial process.

Dangerous Decisions

The danger of groupthink is that wrong conclusions are drawn from the discussion and alternative viewpoints are shut down. These may be positions that may help a company avoid major problems. It is human nature to want to feel like you belong to a group and are accepted by other members. Unfortunately, this, coupled with a strong personality in the group, can cause people to give in even when logic and sound judgment may be telling them that the group in is danger of making a rash and potentially disastrous decision,

Some Ground Rules

It is important that some general rules be observed when a group is attempting to reach a consensus decision.

  1. Respect the opinions of others, even those whose position is lower. They are in the meeting for a reason.
  2. Allow everyone to express their thoughts and opinions.
  3. No criticism of someone’s opinion just because you don’t immediately agree. You may find later that the idea wasn’t so far-fetched after all.
  4. Make notes of the ideas offered by others. It is a good idea here is to write the various ideas and thoughts on a board for all to see. You can even consider doing this in a mind map form to help organize it.
  5. Once everyone has expressed their ideas and thoughts, open it to discussion of the various ideas and thoughts presented. Again, there is no need to ridicule someone for their idea. Who knows, others in the group may like it and want to incorporate it in the final decision.
  6. See if the group can find common connections between the various ideas offered. You may find that many people are more in agreement that at first thought.
  7. Don’t be too quick to discard the thoughts that at first may seem foolish or even out of sync with other ideas. Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak to make what may have seemed preposterous into something very helpful.
  8. Once this process has played out, it is now time for the group to make some final decisions. You will likely find that the final product of the process looks nothing like you expected, yet somehow it is better.
  9. Remember, it is likely that nobody will be totally in agreement with the final decision, but they will at least know they were heard along with everyone else and probably had some influence over the outcome.

What about your company? Does it experience the danger of groupthink? Is there someone who so dominates every decision-making process that for all practical purposes there was no need for others to be present?

If you want to know more, contact AimCFO – Contact

As always, your comments are welcomed.

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