It's natural for people to want to be part of a group. It helps us feel safe and wanted. But when everyone bands together tighter than peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich, you have a real problem on your hands--groupthink. This is when people make decisions that aren't truly beneficial, ethical or rational, all to further the purpose or cause of the team. You've got lots of options for combating this.
1. Get your facts--and then question them.
Groupthink sometimes happens because the people on a team feel overly confident in themselves and their sources. They don't always dig deep enough to verify the methodologies used or weed out instances of bias that could sway their thoughts and decisions. Encourage team members not to take answers at face value and to consider what might have influenced the results.
2. Take your time.
While it's true that time can be money in business, it's important to give people adequate time for active debate and research. Talk more about the quality of the decision than the deadline so that people don't feel overly pressured to conform simply because of the clock.
3. Show trust and value.
A major cause of groupthink is the fear of subordinates that they will be directly or indirectly reprimanded if they speak out. Counter this fear by showing appreciation to all employees in unique ways, being authentic and open, and keeping your word.
4. Reward independent innovation and creativity.
Showing trust and value can inspire people to take the first steps to more independent thought and action. But you also want to set a clear precedent of positive reinforcement, too. Whenever someone forges their own path in a way that benefits the company, point it out and show enthusiasm.
5. Lean on the experts.
Experts from different departments--or from outside the company--can offer a fresh, unbiased perspective. Seeking and sharing their insights can make it easier for others to see that you're really after a good, informed decision rather than unquestioning minions, and that you won't react negatively if they offer their own opinions.
6. Have more private conversations.
This doesn't mean you should withhold information or intentionally silo. It simply means that you take the opportunity to engage one-on-one with employees to hear them each out in confidence. This way, individuals aren't pressured in the moment to do and say what everyone else does or says.
7. Create a varied and broken team.
Ensuring that the members of your team come from diverse backgrounds improves the odds you'll get competing perspectives and ideas. At the same time, you can break bigger groups into smaller teams to see what each one comes up with and foster some friendly competition.
8. Watch your language and other cues.
Word choice and body language can give away how you want others to think or respond. Think carefully about the connotations within your speech and gestures, and don't be afraid to pause.
9. Create processes that acknowledge possible alternatives.
Ideally, your processes should ensure that there's always at least one other option to explore on the table. Make sure that all team members come up with some individual pros and cons to each possible choice.
10. Paint failures in a more positive light.
If your team has made recent mistakes, they can feel an increased pressure to band together to get it right the next time. Make sure they understand that you expect learning rather than perfection. Have everyone come up with a contingency plan so that everyone knows success is still possible even if the unexpected happens.
11. Remove as many stressors as possible.
When work is exceptionally difficult or complex, people can give in to groupthink as a way of quickly alleviating their emotional load. Be courteous and cognizant about individual needs, streamline your processes and provide as many lines of support as you can.
12. Offer your own opinion last.
The idea here is to even the power dynamic between you and your team. Get feedback from the bottom up first so that your employees aren't swayed by what you initially throw out as the authority. Then, once you have heard from all parties, share your thoughts in ways that make it clear you've taken their concerns or concepts into consideration.
13Ensure many different platforms for feedback.
Workers aren't cookie-cutter. They should be able to connect with you and share their opinions in ways that are intuitive and comfortable for them individually. Because anonymity actually can create inefficiency and breed a culture of distrust and suspicion, work hard to prevent discrimination or intimidation as you offer different communication options. Encourage workers to address whatever issues they have together respectfully, and be open about difficult dynamics at play.
A strong team is precious to any company. But part of what makes great companies stand out is that, even as everyone works together, people don't lose their individuality or their ability to be heard just as they are. Hold on to this vision and make strategies against groupthink standard protocol.