This is the fifth of several posts written by some of my top Small Group Communication students at Azusa Pacific University. They’ve been learning all about what makes groups and teams great, and I’ve selected just a few excellent posts that will benefit my readers. Enjoy!
9 Strategies to Avoid Groupthink
By: Desiree Loria, Junior Communication Studies Major at Azusa Pacific University
It happens all the time. We censor ourselves to avoid conflict within our team. We fail to speak up or offer an alternative idea in group meetings and discussion simply because we want to avoid disagreement. We don’t want to upset the apple cart.
But when we censor ourselves to stifle healthy conflict, we strive so much for unanimity that we fail to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. That’s called groupthink*, and many have attributed all sorts of poor decisions to it.** Put another way, groupthink occurs when group members so desperately want to agree with one another that they pressure each other to avoid necessary conflict.
Many of us suffer from groupthink because we think avoiding conflict is wise. Preventing disagreement is right way to go, we say. But we do that to our own detriment. In these situations, we fail to take advantage of the benefits of teams.
When a group suffers from groupthink, members may be hesitant to speak up because they don’t want to get shot down and because they trust the group’s inherent morality and good judgment. And when group members already hold a preconception that disagreement leads to conflict, members will start to question and de-value their own opinions or ideas, evaluate themselves negatively, and keep their true thoughts and ideas to themselves. And that’s a recipe for disaster.
Sure, a group consensus – albeit an artificial one – might form quickly, but at what cost? Most likely the group will make a less than optimal decision and members will stay quiet even though they disagree with the outcome and grow isolated from the rest of the group.
Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use with your group or team to avoid the perils of groupthink. To avoid groupthink, you can:
- Reframe disagreement as a necessary, helpful characteristic of great teams.
- Foster open discussion and encourage your team members to always contribute their thoughts, ideas, and opinions
- Establish group norms that indicate conflict and speaking one’s mind is expected
- Avoid quickly criticizing other ideas and insulting other team members
- Designate critical evaluators of decisions and plans
- Avoid being too directive and do not come off as close-minded
- Encourage the group to get to the heart of the problem and make the best decision possible
- Confront others with an encouraging spirit and eye toward effective collaboration
- Contribute your thoughts and ideas to your group
Take a step today to help your team avoid groupthink, and see how your group grows from the experience.
*See Irving Janis’ classic book Victims of groupthink, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1972.
**See sources listed here.