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How Can I Avoid Groupthink?

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  • Written By: Whitney Leigh White
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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Most times, when a group of people get together, they have a purpose for getting together. Groupthink is an unfortunate occurrence that is often seen within group settings. When this happening takes place, group members tend to seek the approval of other members instead of identifying the most effective solution to the problem they are trying to solve. As a result of groupthink, many negative outcomes become present, which often include cognitive biases, a failure to identify positive alternatives, and a failure to thoroughly work through contingency plans. There are a number of suggestions that can be followed to help eliminate group think and promote healthy group progress.

It is only a natural for humans to begin thinking alike once they are around each other, mostly because they seek approval from one another. All groups should remember that group conflict is natural as well, but conflict can be kept at healthy levels. In fact, creative conflict often helps a group to fuel its productivity and find efficient solutions to the problems at hand. To promote healthy conflict and avoid groupthink, group members should always respect one another and avoid personal criticism. All group leaders should lead by example and also make sure every group member understands what healthy conflict means.

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Those people who select and create groups should remember to limit the number of people in a single group to no more than 10. Having more than 10 people in a group has tends to encourage unhealthy conflict. Each group should have a list of boundaries that it abides by, as porous team boundaries only lead to a dysfunctional group. Setting boundaries does not mean a team cannot think "outside the box;" it merely means external viewpoints are protected so that consensuses are not made for the wrong reasons. An excellent way to stay within boundaries is by using structured discussion, as this promotes staying on topic.

Groups can also avoid groupthink by remembering to come up with more than one solution to the problem that they are solving. Coming up with more than one solution is also advantageous because, many times, management will not accept the first solution that a group devises. To further help avoid groupthink, the second solution should be much different than the first solution.

Diversity issues often cause groups to take part in groupthink. Every member becomes so concerned with being different from one another that his or her focus gets tuned into finding approval from other members instead of finding the best solution to the problem being solved. When this occurs, a group leader should encourage healthy cultural differences. This can be accomplished by asking members to continually express their own opinions in an assertive yet respectful manner.

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Vincenzo
Post 2

@Soulfox -- watching those large groups can be intriguing. It is interesting to see how people who are so opinionated prior to a meeting on a topic or two keep their mouths shut and go along with the group when actually in a meeting.

One very unfortunate thing about the groupthink dynamic is that just two or three people tend to steer the discussion in their favor on larger boards. Organizations hoping to encourage discussion and diverse decision making by putting together large board defeat their own purposes. Instead of having a small group of, say, nine people running an organization, they wind up with a large group dominated by two or three people who are able to get what they want.

Soulfox
Post 1

Fascinating stuff, considering how there is an alarming tendency for organizations to embrace "the more, the merrier" motto when putting governing boards and such together. There is a reason small, well organized groups that encourage discussion can achieve a lot more than large ones.

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