Collaboration and creative brainstorming sessions occur frequently in most companies. There’s a prevailing idea that, when the most creative minds come together, the meeting will result in the ideal solution for a problem or most innovative product design. While this may be true in some cases, there’s also a risk that the team, department, or committee will fall victim to groupthink, in which the group values unity above critical evaluation. While peace among team members is valuable, it should not interfere with your team creativity, ethics, or business profits.
Here are some problems you could encounter because of groupthink:
Lower quality of a solution, idea, or design
Sometimes, harmony and maintaining the status quo come at the price of the optimal outcome. Even when good ideas are discussed, employees do not articulate potential flaws out of concern for upsetting the group. They may not feel comfortable opposing or criticizing one of their superiors or a more outspoken coworker. This becomes a missed opportunity to address and prevent errors, which could lead to loss of profits and customers down the line.
Fewer innovative products
If and when a company creates a culture that requires employees to toe the line and always be a team player, they may not feel safe suggesting innovative or unique ideas. Over time, products and services suffer because they fall in line with mainstream expectations, rather than offering cutting-edge solutions. Companies such as Apple or Google actively encourage their employees to come forward with unique ideas which is part of the reason that they are constantly reinventing themselves and making innovative leaps in both products and internal operations.
Suppressed, resentful employees
When employees feel that their ideas are silenced, that can lead to complacency, frustration, or even resentment. It’s crucial to let your team know that their new ideas and insights are valued. Otherwise, they will begin to feel undervalued and unappreciated—sentiments that can lead to a toxic work environment or problems with employee retention. Not to mention, your frustrated employees may take their creative ideas to a new company where they feel they are heard.
Groupthink may seem like a minor issue at first, but if it becomes the norm, it can cause a company to stagnate and fall behind its competitors. Profits suffer, customers become dissatisfied, and the company’s reputation for prioritizing creativity and innovation deteriorates. Entire product lines may fail or the company, as a whole, could go under. When creative solutions are not presented, companies cannot adapt to the changing market or their customers’ needs.
You’ve discovered you have a groupthink situation on your hands. What do you do?
Note and vote:
At the beginning of your meeting, have participants brainstorm individually, writing down their ideas without sharing them. Then have them pick their best two or three ideas, write them on a slip of paper, and pass them forward to share with the larger group. After you collect everyone’s top ideas, mix to maximize anonymity, read each idea aloud and record them on a board. Ask participants to vote on the ideas, using either circle dots posted next to ideas or private votes. When top ideas or solutions are selected, discuss drawbacks or roadblocks and how to overcome them. When nobody “owns” or “champions” the idea initially, it’s easier for the group to engage in open, honest discussion.
Select a designated naysayer:
For each meeting, pick one person to pinpoint shortcomings of proposed ideas, making this an accepted part of meeting culture. Everyone gets a turn and comments are made in a respectful tone and focus on a successful final outcome.
Bring in outside help:
Ask people from other departments or hire a consultant to help you out. Others might see strengths or flaws, or ask important questions, that your existing team members may miss. Fresh eyes offer new insights.
Many subtle roadblocks occur when groupthink happens to a team, but the problem that connects them all is this: when employees are beholden to groupthink, the best ideas are never made known and mediocre ideas are not improved upon or dismissed for the best organizational success.