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Groupthinking is a dangerous consensus

I feel that groupthinking is a very distructive process. All opinions should be shared in a professional supportive way that fosters and open-ness to the process and respect for your fellow team members.


Agreed! But how? What techniques can you suggest if group think is occurring in your team?

Ron Obstfeld

I feel starting over may be too much of a deep cut, but having the team play "devil's advocate" on themselves could provide some interesting insight, as well as fostering a more positive environment for those who may not be speaking up (minority of the group opinion) out of fear of the others who do not agree with their train of thought. It may even spark another path to follow for a more improved plan, outcome or policy review.

If the team were to get too terribly stuck, asking for outside help from an experienced and trusted co-worker/supervisor may also halt the "group-thinking" cycle.

Thanks for your response.


I believe it can be very destructive and can promote hostility towards the members of the team who are trying to give a “well what if this happens" or asks if we should consider an escape policy or a fall back position. The team leader should recognize all options put fourth however if all members of the team are subordinate to the team leader free exchange of different opinions can be stifled.

Agreed! Team dynamics, interactions and ultimately results should be guided by the team leader. It is the leader's responsibility not only to complete the activity but also to help each individual and the team grow professionally.

Ron Obstfeld


I agree that it is a destructive process. One of the most insidious problems with group-think is that people engaging in it will sometimes use those same goals as justifications to shut down divergent viewpoints.

I noted it the most in group meetings as a trainer for a customer service provider. Our Operations leader manager was known for not really creating a safe environment for sharing ideas-- he just went through the motions for doing so. In theory, he utilized a leader with input form of leadership, but in reality he usually had approaches that he favored and only allowed discussion to continue as long as the results reflected favorably on his initial suggestions.

He would open the floor to discussion, and would let it go if things went in the way he wanted (many did, because he did have good ideas), but he would join in and actively debate opposing points rather than let the team discuss the relative merits among ourselves. The most frustrating comments he would make were that he would question the open-mindedness of those that questioned the ideas he was in favor of. Rather than engage the dissenting position on it's own merits, he would require that the person advocating a dissenting position explain their motivations for not trying to get on board with the group's decision. Another problem I had was that he never gave any advanced notice of content, so it was never possible to have the relevant counter evidence available at hand to defend a position-- which required the person to resort to generalizations and vague statements to avoid overstating something. Decision were never tabled, and this meant that only very rarely did his "suggestions" ever meet with a carefully crafted response.

Now I wouldn't have minded his approach if he was saying, hey guys, I've decided this is how we're going to move forward, here are the details. But he didn't. He would act as if it was decision made by the group, and when things didn't work out, he would ask us why we hadn't anticipated the problem before hand

Over time, the perception that he just went through the motions of making informed choices became entrenched in our group-- and one learned that it was personally safer to just take the temperature on what he wanted, and try to problem solve after the fact than it was to attempt to discuss possible obstacles in advance.

Fortunately, the results the team were not good, and it didn't take long before that team was given over to another manager. Her approach was sincere, and we were able to voice dissent in professional ways, and we were able to avoid thousands of dollars per month in costs related to process penalties because of this.

Good story...with a happy ending! This result may be the exception rather than the rule. What if the results were positive. How would this manager's approach have been revealed?

Ron Obstfeld

Hi Ron,

I was glad in the end, but it took too long for that to change-- one of the realities of telling stories is that they're faster to tell than they were to live.

As I'd shared before, he did have good ideas, and he was very charismatic-- he couldn't have gotten into an Ops Manager position without those hard and soft skills in place -- so he was able gloss over a lot of issues early on as "growing pains" as our new project was "getting its legs."

In the end, and I'm speculating on this point, is that the client actually got fed up and requested the change, rather than it being the result of an internal decision. Since they were outside his sphere of influence, he couldn't push ideas past them in shared meetings in the same way that he could when it was us only.

That client was actually pretty good about making a point to discuss process and options with us as individuals as well, and I suspect that they became less and less convinced that the team was unable to anticipate the issues that were happening, but were getting directions to not care until they cared.

As for if the results of his actions had been positive in the long run? Hmm.. that is an interesting question. I am not really sure that they would have been-- considering that his task was to improve our performance related to contractually set metrics. When things went well, we didn't just avoid penalties as a company, the company actually received bonuses. I could see those bonuses as being a big incentive to overlook "small problems" as long as they were working out.

I guess one way would be if a new person joined the group without the same team-mentality or history with the group and found his leadership style offensive or intimidating and then escalated the situation to HR or something like that. I would like believe that we would not have accepted an idea that would put our contract or the company's reputation at risk.

But that's the rub isn't it? People actually engaged in group-think would all say that they were going along with the group since it wasn't a major issue, but think that they would have said something if they felt that it REALLY mattered.

Good Question =)

-- David

Thank you for your response well expressed response. I hope the group would not wait want to wait for a new member to join and challenge. This may appear to be a minor issue to the group but is is really a big issue.This leader is undermining the group members creativity, self-esteem and professional growth. In the long run, this behavior could cost the company real money and turnover of great employees. I hope someone would either confront this person or take the issue to HR to modify this persons behavior.

Ron Obstfeld

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