Groupthink in Business

Groupthink in Business: What Is It? Why Is It Bad? How to Avoid It

Groupthink in BusinessGroupthink is a phenomenon in which a group of people make poor decisions because they are too anxious to disagree with what the majority of the group thinks. This can happen in any type of setting, including business meetings and decision-making groups.

The term was coined by social psychologist Irving Janis. Groupthink is a type of social psychology that refers to the mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive group, when the members' striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.

In business, Groupthink is often seen as a contributor to bad decisions. It can be caused by someone who has too much power over the group, unclear rules, lack of norms, lack of diversity and more.

Why groupthink is bad for your business

It limits creativity: Ideas need to be constantly challenged in order for creative products and innovative solutions to come out. Groupthink limits creativity and prevents new ideas from being brought forth, which could be detrimental for any company looking for innovative solutions.

It can lead to poor decision-making: Group members might not be able to challenge the ideas of other members in order to come up with the best solution, which could lead to bad decisions.

It creates an unhealthy environment: An environment where people are afraid to speak up will not only inhibit creativity, but it will also create an unhealthy environment where employees may feel unsafe or unheard.

In some cases, groupthink can lead to disastrous results: In the 1990s, Swissair was the world's ninth-largest airline. It had a fleet of over 100 aeroplanes and served around 120 destinations in Europe and North America. But, in 2001, Swissair collapsed with a debt of 17 billion Swiss francs. The company went bankrupt because of groupthink—an atmosphere of conformity that suppressed doubts and encouraged only agreement within a group. In this case, the board members were all Swiss educated and shared a similar background which led to them making decisions based on their own perspective rather than considering other viewpoints.

How to avoid groupthink

Create awareness

The first step to avoid groupthink is make people aware of what it is. When people are aware of groupthink, they can be more conscious of their decision-making process and take steps to avoid it happening in the future.

Encourage open communication and transparency

To avoid groupthink, leaders need to encourage open communication within the group and explicitly share their thoughts and ideas. If group members are transparent with one another, then they will not feel threatened by others' opinions. This is true in meetings and in brainstorming sessions.

Avoid homogenous groups

Groups are not always the best choice of a team. People with similar backgrounds will more likely make decisions that favor their group over the group as a whole.

To avoid this problem, leadership should try to create heterogeneous teams where there are representatives from diverse backgrounds and cultures. This will allow for broader thinking and better decision-making outcomes.

The group leader should keep ideas to themselves at first

If a group of people are working on a problem, the leader should not contribute any ideas because it can lead to groupthink. The leaders should make sure that they are not influencing the other members of the group by keeping their ideas to themselves and then adding their ideas to the discussion at a later point.

Look for outside perspectives

It's important to consider outsiders' opinions, such as someone who has expertise in your industry because there is not always a group to be completely objective about an idea. There are many different perspectives and opinions on any given subject, and it's important to take them all into account.

Avoid criticizing

It is important for leaders and managers to create an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up with their dissenting opinions. They should avoid criticizing anyone who speaks out with alternative opinions, which lead to more groupthink.

Divide the group

Groupthink can be avoided by dividing the group into two. One group will be in charge of coming up with reasons to support the decision, while the other will come up with reasons not to support it.

Assign a group member as a devil's advocate

The group should discuss the given topic and assign one person to play the role of devil’s advocate. The devil’s advocate should be a member of the group and should not be assigned any other task.

A devil’s advocate is someone who argues against a proposal, typically in a position of authority. The goal is to create an environment where all possible arguments are heard, even if they are not popular or well-accepted. The idea behind this strategy is that it will help generate new ideas or ways to approach problems.

Final words

To avoid groupthink, create an environment that encourages people to voice their opinions and ideas. This can be done by encouraging open discussions, allowing dissenting opinions, and creating a culture of trust.