“Groupthink” does not sound like something you’d want your employees engaging in on a regular basis, does it? Indeed, groupthink is a conformist mindset that interferes with creativity and independent thinking.
Groupthink occurs when your staff is more concerned about securing the approval of others than in challenging their coworkers to come up with breakthrough ideas. Of course, you need those breakthrough ideas for your organization to be successful and to stand apart from the competition.
Here are some tips on how avoid groupthink and foster creative conflict:
- Encourage a culture of difference. Your company’s work environment should nourish healthy debate and differences of opinion. In meetings, ask your employees to express their opinions before you share your own. Tell your staff that you want them to speak up when they disagree or have an idea that is different from that of others in the group.
- Watch your signals. If you encounter little dissension in your group, think about your own behavior. Do you in some way convey the message that disagreement is bad? When an employee expresses a differing opinion, do you rake them over the coals or dismiss their opinion automatically? If you’re unable to pry your employees out of groupthink malaise, ask a team member you trust for their honest feedback on how you come across to your staff.
- Set some guidelines. Setting forth meeting procedures early on is important in combatting groupthink. This includes developing an agenda, a clear template for discussion. It also includes sharing your expectation that all employees will speak candidly, and that all opinions are to be heard. You might employ a method of assigning different team members’ roles in discussing agenda items. Healthy debate about ideas and alternatives should be encouraged, while personal attacks should not be permitted.
- Rebuild the group. During a meeting, the process of coming to a decision is not often an easy one. Dissension and conflict, while healthy, can be a tiring process, and it’s the fear of this process that’s part of the mechanism of groupthink. One way to counteract this is to come to a decision midway through the meeting, saving the last half for a brainstorming session on different issues. This allows people to come together in a creative, unpressured way, so that the group can reconnect.
- Create an anonymous feedback channel. Allow your staff a way to state their views freely, without any worry of reprisal. A suggestion box is one constructive solution. Regularly bring up questions and suggestions from the box at weekly meetings, and use them as a springboard for discussion. These suggestions can also be brought up in e-mail dialogues.
- Make sure the conflict stays healthy. Of course you want to avoid groupthink. Just make sure that in the process of fostering creative conflict, the tension among your staff doesn’t become negative or nasty. It’s your responsibility to ensure that there’s no personal criticism or harsh words being exchanged. If this is the case, talk with your staff to make sure they understand what a healthy difference of opinion really means.
Groups of people can often combine their talents, abilities, and experience to come up with the wisest choices. This is why groups, rather than individuals, usually make major decisions in business. But all this depends on overcoming the tendency to conform and cohere to the group. By learning to avoid groupthink, your business is sure to benefit by tapping into the creativity and ingenuity waiting inside everyone.