Divergent positions lead to people on a team or in an organization pulling in different directions. Therefore, it is often assumed that an organization performs well when employees or team members are reading from the same script. However, in-group formation and related cohesive thinking aimed at maintaining the status quo does not develop or improve the performance of a team.
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This kind of approach to issues is referred to as groupthink. Groupthink is characterized by team members, in a blanket like way, accepting others’ ideas without analyzing or critically evaluating them. This kind of unreflective approach to others’ ideas is driven by a desire to be nice and supportive of in-group cohesion. This kind of disposition develops out of fear of being the odd one out.
Groupthink is a big threat to project development because team members do not realistically evaluate project ideas. Instead of members individually evaluating project alternatives, they just second ideas of group leaders or group members so as not to be seen to derail the team. The key consideration by members is how to remain in the comfort zone as not to be sidelined by other members. The focus is not on project ideas or alternatives’ merit but group cohesion.
For example, individuals may have valid reservations about a given course of action; however, they unanimously support the course of action because it is the perceived comfortable position in the group.
Consequently, such a team is disposed to making irrational or hasty conclusions because individuals do not take arguments to a logical conclusion. If an alternative is seen to contradict general feelings in the group, members shy from associating with it. As a result, members tend towards biased positions and the group does not fully investigate issues by considering all facts relevant to the given issues.
Groupthink can easily be avoided if team leaders or project managers take pro-active steps or measures towards preventing the same (Kowert, 2002, p. 100). First, project managers or supervisors have to avoid taking a stance upfront on any issues that are to be debated on by the project team or group. If they take or show that they are inclined towards a given position, they directly influence group deliberations.
In organizations where power is centralized, subordinates tend to be inclined towards their up line manager’s point of view. Therefore, if subordinates are to think independently, managers have to show indifference on issues that are to be deliberated on by the group. Moreover, if they are also engaged in deliberation processes, they have to be receptive of all positions taken by group members during group deliberations.
Secondly, project managers have to encourage creativity and independence in thought. They should not be seen to favor conformists or individuals who don’t think out of known stipulations. Project managers have to encourage members towards separating Individual’s opinions from individuals i.e. all members have to appreciate that individuals are not their opinions.
Thirdly, in a brainstorming session, the leader should urge for an exhaustive enumeration of alternatives and each alternative has to be discussed exhaustively. For each alternative, members have to be objective as to look at demerits and merits.
Fourthly, project members can discourage groupthink by designing project team composition properly. If a group is composed of independent-minded individuals who are authorities in their field, discussion on given alternatives is more likely to be professional and objective than otherwise.
Finally, experts and consultants or ‘outsiders’ can be engaged in group deliberations as facilitators or participants (Kowert, 2002, p. 125). These independent individuals are likely to push the group towards other options. If the consulting facilitators are experts at facilitation, they are likely to urge or lead the team into thinking outside the box.
Kowert, P. (2002). Groupthink or Deadlock: When do Leaders learn from their Advisors? New York: SUNY Press.