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Watch for the warning signs of groupthink

“We’ve always done it that way.”

“That’s the right way.”

“Everybody does it this way.”

“That’s standard practice.”

Whenever you hear those phrases, or anything like them, sound the Groupthink Alert.

Garden Variety Groupthink

Here’s now Wikipedia defines “groupthink”

“Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”

That’s what we usually think of as “groupthink.” A bunch of people are sitting around a table. They’re all agreeing with each other even though many of the individuals have doubts. They don’t want to rock the boat or create controversy, though, so they stay quiet.

Jerry Harvey wrote about this kind of groupthink in his marvelous meditation, “The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement.” Reading that will probably make you want to read his book, The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management.

That kind of groupthink is dangerous, but it’s easy to spot. When you identify it, just voicing your observation generally sets the group to airing their differences. But there are even more dangerous forms of groupthink which are much harder to identify and deal with.

Groupthink II: Not Examining Standard Practices

Groupthink II happens when we don’t question a norm or standard practice. Right now you may be thinking, “Ok, but, we can’t question everything we do”

That’s lazy thinking. You can challenge everything you do, you just can’t challenge everything all at once. The whole idea of continuous improvement is based on always looking for ways to do things better. Continuously.

Groupthink III: Stopping with the first workable solution

Tell me if this is familiar to you. There’s a problem to solve and so you call a meeting. The group wrestles with the problem for an hour or so and comes up with a workable solution. So far, so good.

At that point most groups declare victory, congratulate themselves on a job well done, and adjourn. That’s a mistake and an opportunity missed.

Next time you’re in one of those meetings, push the group to come up with a second workable answer. Go for a third or fourth if you can.

The big breakthrough, game changing answers usually don’t show up right away. It takes a little more time and diligence and digging.

Things to Try

Every day, select one common practice and ask, “How can we do this better?” or “How would we do this if we had never done it before?”

The next time you work on solving a problem, don’t stop with the first answer that works. Instead ask, “How can we do this even better?” Let’s think of one more way.

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