Why Groupthink Is the Ultimate Killer of Creativity At the Office

The leader of your work group proudly announces, “We have a consensus” to everyone sitting around the table. If the consensus came through hours, days, or maybe even weeks of discussion and debate, it’s probably a good thing. However, if it came with almost no debate or discussion and sprung from a condition of groupthink, chances are it’s not good. Groupthink—where your group’s desire to conform (or the pressure to conform) overrides an individual’s desire to find the best possible solution—is not a good way to decide anything outside of what lunch the group is going to order in that day.

However, work groups have an essential function in most businesses. We know that bringing together more minds, personalities and experiences to solve work challenges can be beneficial when done right. On the other hand, if the group isn’t conformed correctly, individual decision making can be flawed by biases, self-interest, limited knowledge or time, fear of failure and a multitude of other factors.

But, ensuring that each individual continues to think independently and contribute without pressure is critical to good group decision making.

Let’s take a look at some of the causes of groupthink, as noted by theunboundedspirit.com:

  • The group is very cohesive, i.e., everyone having similar backgrounds
  • The group considers only a few options
  • Members of the group self-censor, often curbing their own ideas for the good of the team, even when it’s not a good thing
  • Outside sources kept from getting information to the group
  • There is great time pressure, producing heightened stress
  • A very direct or intimidating leader dominates the group

In the blog from theunboundedspirit.org above, the author relates the story of the Challenger space shuttle disaster back in January, 1986. Several engineers warned that launching the shuttle in freezing temperatures might cause the O-rings to fail which would result in a catastrophic explosion. Sure enough, it was below freezing on that January day and 73 seconds after liftoff, an O-ring failed and the shuttle exploded, killing all seven crew members aboard. One of the engineers who previously warned against lifting off was persuaded to change his mind after being told to “take off his engineering hat and put on one representing management.”  The ultimate failure of groupthink.

Here are eight ways to prevent groupthink:

  1. Remind each member to evaluate alternatives for risks and drawbacks
  2. The leader should avoid stating preferences and expectations at the outset
  3. Group members should routinely discuss progress with a trusted outside associate and report the associate’s reactions
  4. Establish a template for discussing and evaluating options and making decisions
  5. Occasionally, invite experts to meetings. If necessary, encourage them to challenge the views of the group
  6. Stimulate ideas by meeting off-site occasionally
  7. Designate a devil’s advocate to question assumptions and plans
  8. Set aside time to consider obstacles and competitor’s moves, and make a contingency plan

For the best decisions, prevent groupthink on work teams. Encourage individual thinking. Create an environment where alternatives are carefully considered, challenged and appraised. These measures help ensure the best possible solutions aren’t overlooked or discarded.

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