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Groupthink: How can business leaders spot it and eradicate it?


“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”— George S. Patton

There are no magic bullets when it comes to business decision-making, problem solving, and innovation. However, to strive for the best decisions and solutions, business leaders must be on the lookout for this malaise in their management team: Groupthinking. While it can manifest in different settings, the groupthink phenomenon is unfortunately at play in many organizations today and it has been the culprit of many failed businesses.

Groupthink occurs when a person’s innate desire for group consensus overrides their innate desire to present alternatives, critique a proposed solution, or express an opinion that may go against the group’s consensus. What is most troubling is the fear managers and employees have to express opinions that may go against the “group’s”.

Research on Groupthink

Most of the initial research on groupthink was conducted by Irving Janis, a research psychologist from Yale University. One of his two prime case studies was the Bay of Pigs disaster (the failed invasion of Castro’s Cuba in 1961). The President made a decision and the people around him supported it despite their own concerns. No one spoke up!

Another example of the grave consequences of groupthink is the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. The investigation into this accident revealed that dissenting opinions were not encouraged at NASA. Thus, engineers of the space shuttle knew there were faulty parts months before takeoff but they did not want negative press so they pushed ahead with the launch anyway.

Learn How to Spot it

The most effective leaders know how to spot Groupthink and eliminate it by having a diverse group of managers and by encouraging them to express their opinions in a safe and respectful environment; one where each feels they can express their concerns, challenge the status quo, explore alternatives, and propose different scenarios without fear of reprisal or reproach. This will ensure the highest probability of identifying effective solutions and of discovering innovative products and services for continued business growth.

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