Does your team suffer from groupthink? It turns out that most groups do.

Aristotle believed that groups would be greater than the sum of their parts. But modern research – and probably your own experience – shows that groups are pretty poor at making decisions. They bet on ideas that crash, miss out on spectacular opportunities, and pursue unsuccessful strategies.

Team developmentIt turns out that meeting and talking about things often leads to worse decisions than voting individually.

I’ve just finished reading Cass Sunstein (of Nudge fame) and Reid Hastie’s new book Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter and I’d strongly recommend it. For the time-poor, there’s a summary article here.

The book is full of fascinating details of behavioural research that pinpoints just why groups make mistakes. There are four main issues:

  1. Individual errors are amplified by the group, rather than being corrected
  2. Cascade effects mean that undue weight is given to views expressed early
  3. Groups tend to become polarised, taking up more extreme positions than they started with
  4. Shared information, common knowledge, dominates, while knowledge which is held by only one person is often not heard.

The authors have eight suggestions for how to fix these faults, including replacing group decision-making with tournaments and online prediction markets.

But as I continued to read, I became more and more excited… by the possibilities of the collaboration skills work I do to counter these groupthink issues.

The process, based on David Grove’s Clean Language and, in particular, Caitlin Walker’s work (see her book From Contempt To Curiosity) creates the conditions for groups and teams to collaborate.

It works by:

  • Building respect for the diversity within the group
  • Encouraging curiosity, listening and questioning
  • Enabling everybody to have a voice, and to own their unique experiences.

When the group has an abundance of these three skills, discussions take on a very different character.

Participants are keen to ferret out information which is held by only one person in the group. They know it’s there, they know it matters, and they have the skills to find it.

Everyone has a right, and a duty, to speak up; to share what they know; to ask an extra clarifying question and to help others to do their best thinking.

And everyone plays an active part. There’s no space for passengers or voting fodder.

I’d love to be able to quote specific academic research that shows how these techniques counter groupthink, but it doesn’t yet exist. What does exist are success stories like the tutor group at Liverpool John Moore’s University who all got first class degrees after learning Caitlin’s approach.

The world is going to carry on having meetings to make decisions. Let’s make them the best we can.

  • Have you experienced a groupthink gaffe? Or have you found away to counter groupthink? Please comment below.

    2 replies to "How To Beat Groupthink In Your Team Meetings"

    • Gregg Stadhams

      A basic axiom of systems theory is that any system, a system being a group of similar autonomous agents, when place in a bound condition to which energy is either subtracted or added will inevitably return to its original state .
      E.g. a group of atoms in a bound condition :
      1. energy removed ….system returns to a single ground state called a Bose Einstein condensate. this is an unbounded state of non- quantized exotic matter that cannot be contained.
      2.Energy added….system becomes ionized [ highly charge ] and eventually turns into a highly energised and exotic state of matter called a plasma which also is homogenised and can not be contained.

      The point is that in a group of individuals, a bose condensate is like a unified collective consciousness and a plasma is like a high performance mind or unified intelligence….both states being end point solutions of bound conditions when energy is applied or removed.
      This is a metaphor for group dynamics where participants can interact and adapt without resistance….the physics predicts a unified state of consciousness and intelligence must emerge.
      Tried this with the local politicians e.g. one of the difficulties at a meeting is to get a consensus or unified outcome. I suggested putting them in a smaller room e.g. increase the boundary conditions….the result was that the dynamics and ionization increased more rapidly and a consensus was reached in a shorter period of time.
      Simples!
      Cheers Gregg

    • JR

      That’s a really interesting example of how a metaphor can generate new thinking and new behaviour! Thanks for sharing, Gregg.

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