The term “groupthink” refers to when individual thought submits to the will of a group. This organizational phenomena can start very subtly. Unchecked it will take over the overall thought process of most if not the entire team. Groupthink run amok can be disastrous for an organization.
Two serious examples include:
The Invasion of Pearl Harbor – In 1941, Naval officers stationed at Pearl Harbor were warned of a possible attack. However, the warning was not taken seriously and ignored. The attack that did occur is now well documented in our history books. See Invasion of Pearl Harbor.
Space Shuttle Challenger explosion – In 1986 this tragedy streaked across our headlines leaving us in shock, dismay and sadness. There are a number of issues that led to this disaster. However, it is also known that there was a false sense of security felt by NASA officials. As a result, complacency set in and safety critical thinking ignored. See Space Shuttle Challenger
Symptoms of groupthink include:
- Group overconfidence or illusions of lack of vulnerability (i.e.: too big to fail);
- Pressure to conform;
- Individual thinking or dissenting views are discouraged;
- Incomplete consideration of alternatives;
- Poor information research;
- Inaccurate data and information;
- Failure to establish contingency plans;
- Underestimation of risks of desired decision;
- Bias in obtaining objective or information.
Modern Day Example:
Do the above symptoms sound familiar? If you have been following the issues raised by the SHRM Members for Transparency (SMFT) about the Society Human Resource Management (SHRM), these symptoms may ring a bell. Based on reports, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) has the appearance of being a modern day example of the groupthink phenomenon. Unsettled issues raised of SHRM include: board members voting themselves pay raises, unjustified perks such as flying first class, citing dubious third party compensation survey information, and ignoring dissenting voices. As a result, SMFT has chosen to take action and have introduced a slate of candidates for this current SHRM board member election. See more information here.
Three steps to overcoming groupthink in your organization:
Before allowing groupthink to push you off a cliff and being faced with a question of “how could we have let this happen” consider these steps to overcoming groupthink.
1) Listen honestly to dissenting voices. Companies in danger of facing the cliff of groupthink not only ignore concerned voices, but they may go so far as “shoot the messenger” too. If you want to ensure you are not blinded by groupthink listen to dissenting voices and seriously check for validity of the concern raised.
2) Resist surrounding yourself with “yes” people or all “like-minded” people. It is a courageous leader who embraces brutal truths. An effective leader surrounds themselves with advisors who will tell the truth no matter how unpopular the message.
3) Get involved, take decisive and corrective action. It is easy to understand that with all the challenges a company faces, leaders or managers become weary and burn out. Wake up already! Dig in and address the issues. Change your “yes” people with honest individuals. Trust me, it is easier to overcoming groupthink upfront, than recovering from a fall over a public relations cliff.
The truth is if leadership does not take appropriate action, your customer eventually will.
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