I read somewhere that months before the Challenger space shuttle disaster that engineers were aware that some parts of the space shuttle were faulty, but they decided to go through with the launch to avoid bad publicity. No doubt this was a tragedy that could have been avoided, and it’s true that yielding to the pressure of looking competent can have disastrous effects. So what goes on in a group situation that leads such intelligent people to ignore such needed repairs?
With so much depending on how we function in groups, you would think people would delve deeper, think more critically and want to rectify any problems. However, we all know that when we get together in a group setting, conformity sets in. Once that happens, ideas are not judged fairly and alternative ways of thinking are easily rejected.
So what is groupthink? The concept of groupthink was developed by Irving Janis. His definition of groupthink is “when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to the deterioration of ‘mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment.’”
So how did we all just turn into sheep and conform into thinking that bad ideas are acceptable? Below are a few strong warning signs that someone might just need to start speaking up and escape the trap of groupthink.
One person is in complete control: For whatever reason, you seem to have a very firm “my way or the highway” kind of leader who monopolizes the group’s dynamics. Outside ways of thinking are immediately dismissed.
Uniformity: The group is made up of individuals from the same background, ethnicity, level of education, class or gender. This lack of diversity produces no new ideas. Also, if there are a few individuals who do think differently from the majority of the group, they’ll be forced to conform to the majority’s way of thinking through peer pressure.
Suppressing evidence or facts: Not objectively evaluating facts or evidence and writing them off as irrelevant.
No leader: Creating a meeting that allows everyone to share their ideas is a means to allow different ideas to be introduced and implemented. Everyone in the meetings can be required to contribute a suggestion. Meetings where everyone is free to contribute is a good way to avoid giving control to one person and limiting the types of ideas that are being shared.
Diversity: With different types of people making up a group, different perspectives are introduced which lead to a larger variety of ideas. This is the kind of atmosphere that companies need for innovation.
Education and exploring new ideas: Keep up with changes and progress that is happening in your field of work. That’s why encouraging and supporting employees desire to learn more and keep up with new trends and innovations can allow a company to grow in the changing marketplace.
Challenge ideas without fear of criticism: During brainstorming sessions, coming up with ideas and accurately analyzing them in a detailed manner prevents approving ideas that are mistakes waiting to happen. Looking at a decision’s risks, consequences and requirements will create an objective brainstorming process, which is essential to the survival of a company.
In a group setting, trying to do the right thing or what is best for the greater good of the company can get lost. Instead, doing things that are known, easy or based on what certain people think becomes the factors that control a decision. You have no control over these matters. Even if you speak up and try to do the right thing, you run a high risk of getting dismissed. But if you’re in a place that’s apparently making some big mistakes, it may be time to do the right thing for yourself and move on.
Does your company have an issue with groupthink?
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