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Groupthink: 7 Tips To Prevent Disastrous Decisions

When you’re the new boss, it feels great to have employees agree with your decisions. But, agreement isn’t always a good thing, as one of my clients found out.

“John” was new in his director-level role and needed to quickly assess several situations and make some decisions.

During one meeting in particular, employees seemed to be paying close attention to the discussion. John was feeling especially good because, once two employees spoke up in agreement with his decision, the rest of those in the meeting seemed to easily go along with how to move forward. 

Weeks later, it turned out that John had been missing key pieces of information that would have made a difference in his decision. “I don’t get it. They all sat there nodding their heads in agreement,” John explained. “Yet today I found out that a few people weren’t comfortable with my recommendation and had information that would have been helpful. Had I seen the information they had, I wouldn’t have made that decision.”

groups dont think people do logic

What John experienced is known as “groupthink” – it’s when members of a group yield to the consensus or to the most vocal participants (such as a new boss) and fail to consider all the potential options and consequences.

In John’s situation, it happened because employees were afraid to speak out against their new boss’s decision. Groupthink can also occur when others question their loyalty when they speak out against the topic or direction (peer pressure), when the group is overly optimistic, when ethical considerations are ignored, or when stereotypes are used instead of facts and research.

Groupthink can have negative consequences (as John found out), because it can lead to poor or even disastrous decisions. By understanding what groupthink is, recognizing the symptoms, and by taking proactive actions, you can help make sure groupthink never occurs on your watch. Here’s how:

Increase awareness. The first step toward prevention is to make people aware of what groupthink is, as well as how and why it can occur.

Engage in open discussions. Create a culture where employees are encouraged to critically analyze situations and proactively share information and provide feedback.

Don’t shoot the messenger. As part of the process of engaging in open discussions, avoid criticizing anyone who speaks out with alternative opinions. Model the art of critical listening skills.

Assign a “devil’s advocate.” Ask one or more team members to play the role of devil’s advocate to ensure all sides of a topic are explored and discussed. Or, divide the group into two and ask one team to present the pros and the other team to present the cons of each option.

Bring in subject matter experts (SMEs). When the topic is of high importance, internal or external subject matter experts can help ensure a full understanding of all angles, consequences and options/alternatives.

Document the decision. Once a decision has been reached, have team members briefly document the information:

  • The current situation and associated problems
  • All possible solution options and an analysis of each option
  • The recommended solution and why it was chosen
  • A high-level implementation plan, timeline and budget

Optional: Obtain feedback from a different team. If you’re still feeling uncomfortable about the decision after this process, you could ask a different team to review the information and provide feedback.

Source: forbes.com

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