Conflict Resolution, Motivation, Training

The High Cost of Groupthink in the Workplace

So what exactly is “groupthink”? While the term may sound rather clinical, chances are you have spent a great deal of your leadership time promoting the concept. At the most basic level, groupthink is a term used to describe the influence and emphasis of consensus. Applied to a work setting, groupthink prioritizes agreement and cohesion over conflict. Sounds great, right? More cooperation, less dissension is after all, a fundamental characteristic of teamwork.

While breaking down barriers and removing obstacles is an admirable approach to bringing together a diverse group of co-workers and has its merits, it may not be without its drawbacks. Too often, managers driven to accomplish a specific goal, will strive to achieve a singular mindset and in so doing either explicitly or implicitly discourage discussions that challenges the status quo. In the most simplistic of terms, organizations too heavily influenced by groupthink will find their team members operating under the mantra of “don’t make waves”. Although many managers may contend that such an approach is essential to stability, the question remains whether or not the current status quo is in the best interest of your company.

When groupthink is allowed to become an acceptable and dominate force within a team, it is important to acknowledge the consequences of forcing those with alternate views to comply with the majority opinion. Through the creation of such an environment of artificial agreement, individual departments or businesses as a whole avoid dealing with sensitive issues, controversial topics, or potential roadblocks; each of which run the risk of resulting in costly mistakes that impact the bottom line. Moreover, creative problem solvers will eventually find themselves exhausted from the stress and begin to look for opportunities elsewhere.

So how do organizations avoid falling into the amenable trap of groupthink? The solution may begin with something as simple as how a business designs their workspace. In an era that has promoted open space office settings; such non-stop interaction can be counterproductive to individual health and work productivity.

According to a January 13, 2012 Article published in The New York Times by author Susan Cain:

Virtually all American workers now spend time on teams and some 70 percent inhabit open-plan offices, in which no one has “a room of one’s own.” During the last decades, the average amount of space allotted to each employee shrank 300 square feet, from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet in 2010.

In addition, the author goes on to cite that:

Studies show that open-plan offices make workers hostile, insecure and distracted. They’re also more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, stress, the flu and exhaustion. And people whose work is interrupted make 50 percent more mistakes and take twice as long to finish it.

By moving toward incorporating individual workspace, particularly preferable among introverts, there are greater opportunities to focus in-depth on work matters with minimal distraction.

Second, consider re-evaluating “standing” meetings. If the purpose and goal of each meeting cannot be clearly articulated, it may be time to stop scheduling reoccurring meetings. Such group sessions not only pose obstacles around which work is accomplished, but can frequently become a source of peer pressure stifling tendencies to raise alternate views or solutions.

While the benefits of collaborative work environments go without saying, it is essential that your organization’s leadership team recognizes the signs and acknowledges the repercussions of groupthink. With a Millennial Generation workforce raised in an era of innovation and change, the top talent you worked so hard to recruit will likely find other opportunities to engage their skills.

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