Preventing Group Thinking in Your Team

They walk alike, they talk alike, they dress alike, they think alike. No, it isn't an invasion of clones; it is just a team that is in the grips of "group thinking". Group thinking is a team alternative to conflict. Indeed, if all team members are of one mind, no one will make an objection, offer up a dissenting opinion, or disagree with a group decision. The advantages to group think are obvious. Team harmony appears to be high, respect between team members is apparent, and time is not wasted on disagreement. On the other hand, team creativity is compromised, individual contribution is stifled, and the wealth of options born of a diversity of thought is absent. Teams using group think are significantly less productive than teams who capitalize on differences in perspective.

So how does a group begin to align its' thinking to the point that they appear to consistently be of one mind? Oddly, the behaviour is usually born out of conflict. As the team moves through its developmental cycle, the "Storming" stage of team development, which is rife with conflict, begins to wear on the team sensibilities. It becomes exhausting to always be at odds with others who are your team mates, so team members make a risky shift to switch rather than fight.

At first, the advantages of group think are obvious. Peace reins throughout the team. One person makes a suggestion, and everyone else automatically loves it. Feelings of confidence and competence rise in each team member when suddenly, they are right about everything. Unfortunately, the glow of unconditional unity fades quickly. Peace at all costs is boring, and breeds mediocrity. Challenge flies out the window as people go along to get along, and no one has to try very hard at all to win approval. It is then that productivity begins to wane, and alarmingly, no one seems to care.

To prevent group think from settling into your team, take the role of devil's advocate when over-agreement is obvious. Question decisions with queries of "what if", or "then what"? Get the juices of individuality flowing again to regain the full contribution of every member of your team.