Groupthink – The Enemy of Command

“If everyone’s thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.” – George S. Patton

Have you ever wondered how you ended up carrying out a really awful plan?  One that should have easily been cut during the group brainstorming session as someone’s weak attempt at humour?  The likely culprit is a phenomenon known as “Groupthink”.  This special form of dysfunction is the enemy of command because it creates an atmosphere of limited solutions.

Groupthink? Maybe. Bad idea? Definitely.

Groupthink is what happens when we all focus on one solution or pathway to solve a problem.  It can be caused by too many of the same personality type, overly aggressive leadership, or poor communication.  Here’s a pretty good run-down of the symptoms associated with groupthink.

So now you’ve found it, how can you prevent it?

  • Avoid “situating the estimate.” In other words, when faced with a problem, don’t jump to your preferred solution in advance of your team.  Don’t even hint at your preference – let their ideas come out; you may be surprised to find out that your preferred solution is the one that is the least useful.
  • Solicit opinions in reverse order of seniority. Find out what the junior folks think first – this avoids the pressures associated with disagreeing with more experienced members of the team.  Only works if you have created an environment where your junior team members feel comfortable in providing honest input.
  • Use sub-groups. At the risk of sounding like the two Fed-Ex guys trying to get the box to Germany, you may want to break into groups.  Groups working the same problem may widen the solution field.

Have you got an example of groupthink?  What did you do about it and did it work?


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