Groupthink: A psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.
One of the reasons meetings have a mixed reputation is the frequency with which tongues are bitten; opinions kept to yourself. Everyone around you seems to agree the right way to proceed, they seem to share the same opinion. Except you want to disagree but you keep quiet as you don’t want to seem out of step with the group.
There are sound evolutionary reasons why we like to agree with our tribe. Failure to do so could lead to exile and, in earlier times, hardship and possible death without the support of your people. However the maverick opinion, the challenge to orthodoxy, being the devil’s advocate is a vital part of making better, smarter decisions.
The unquestioning approach to decision making can lead to mistakes, even business failure. A much quoted example of Group Think (including Rolf Dobelli in his excellent “The Art Of Thinking Clearly”) is that of SwissAir. Known in successful times as the “Flying Bank” who flew straight into bankruptcy following an expansion plan based on past successes. There must have been executives there who privately questioned the direction they were taking. But they, and I suspect anyone with doubts, kept them to themselves and didn’t challenge the plan. Disaster soon followed.
One of my least favourite business slogans (and I have a healthy disdain for most slogans) is that “there is no I in team”. All teams, sporting or business, are made up of individuals who will have opinions about tactics, strategy and direction. You have to have teamwork but you also need individuals to feel comfortable to express themselves.
At some point a decision will need to be made by the manager of the group and at that point everyone needs to put aside their misgivings and help make the plan work. Until that point though they need to be encouraged to voice their opinion, constructively obviously, so that their experience and opinion, as an individual, can lead to a better team decision.
I was a board member of an Agency many moons ago. It wasn’t a diverse group. Middle aged, white and male. Demographics aside it wasn’t diverse in opinion also.
A new director was appointed who wasn’t afraid to voice a contrary opinion. There were undoubtedly times when he was a pain but there is no doubt that discussions became more open and that better decisions were made. It might have been a coincidence but it was also a period of significant growth for the Agency.
Arguments tested by debate will result in better decisions. Received wisdom accepted by groups will result in a narrower band of outcomes. Mistakes will be made and opportunities lost.
Making decisions can be difficult and there are times when they have to be made quickly and that’s a lot easier if it’s either one person’s opinion or a group who all seem to agree.
But if that is the way every decision is made the odds are they won’t be the best decisions.
If you work in an Agency make sure your opinion is expressed positively. Possibly in private to avoid any group pressure. If you don’t win the argument don’t keep coming back to it every time the subject is raised and certainly don’t say I told you so.
If you are running an Agency encourage debate. It won’t be hard to start if you have the time listen to and debate with your Team. One thing that is consistent with every Agency I’ve worked with is that there is no shortage of bright, engaged and opinionated people. If you don’t have that then you’ve got another, bigger, problem.
When the time comes though you will have to explain what your decision is and why. Hopefully everyone will back your decision but if there is a dissenting voice welcome the debate. You’ll end up making a better decision.