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Groupthink occurs when a group of people feel uncomfortable stating their thoughts, opinions and beliefs, because they're afraid of going against the grain. The phenomenon causes intelligent individuals to make poor group decisions, because they're more concerned with blending in and not making a fuss, than with using their critical thinking and creative problem solving skills. To ensure companies receive the full benefit of their employees' minds, managers must encourage workers to speak the truth.
Lead group meetings from a stance of impartiality. Groupthink often occurs when members of the group feel the person in power has a specific agenda or preference toward a particular course of action. Rather than asserting their individual opinions, members defer to the ideas of their leader, believing there is a right or wrong answer, and/or their leader knows best. Keep your personal ideas about courses of action to yourself, so members feel free to come up with their own solutions.
Encourage members to come up with their own solutions, regardless of management levels, alliances or divisions within the group. Encourage employees to state their opinions honestly, even if they contradict suggestions made by supervisors or co-workers. Also, tell them it's fine to agree with individuals with whom they’ve had problems.
Divide large groups into smaller sub groups, so people feel comfortable expressing themselves. Many people are intimidated by having to speak in front a large number of people; intimate groups ensure each member speaks his mind. Rejoin smaller groups into one large group, and report the list of possible solutions suggested for everyone to consider.
Assign someone within your organization the role of “devil’s advocate”; have this person analyze each possible solution and potential problems that may arise. Have the group consider each solution in the light of its drawbacks.
Ask someone from outside of your organization to come in and objectively evaluate your decision making process and offer constructive criticism.
Break again into smaller sub-groups, and see if any new solutions arise in light of the larger group discussion.
Encourage ongoing critical assessment of all policies and procedures by each member of your organization, even after a consensus has been reached. Encourage members to never grow complacent with the status quo, and to continually investigate new methods, critique outdated ideas and speak their minds.
Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.