Groupthink is what happens when people don’t share their dissenting views, so the group as a whole makes poor decisions.
Fortunately, groupthink doesn’t happen invisibly. If leaders know what to look for, they can take active steps to raise their employees’ voices and, ultimately, arrive at better-informed decisions.
Drawing from our recent white paper, “The Business Case: How Diversity Defeats Groupthink,” we’ve identified three major signs that groups may not be soliciting enough input.
1. People are quick to agree with the leader
As we explained in a recent blog post, rushing to consensus is a common trap in team meetings. Employees naturally want to get on the boss’ good side (and ideally end the meeting as soon as possible), so to avoid creating conflict, many people will agree with leadership’s decisions, even if they seem problematic.
Rushing to consensus is usually a sign people aren’t fully considering the downsides of a given decision. Leaders who notice this over-reliance on agreement should pause to ask which perspectives the team may be overlooking.
2. People are always asked to dissent publicly
Leaders should never underestimate the power of social pressure. That’s why NLI recommends leaders ask their team to offer dissenting views anonymously, especially in the most contentious situations, so people can avoid conforming to a silent majority without fear of retribution or other backlash.
When team members have the chance to submit ideas anonymously, leaders can trust the less filtered responses will be more helpful and that each voice has a greater chance of being heard equally, and with less overall bias.
3. There is no clear devil’s advocate
Healthy discussions tend to produce at least one devil’s advocate organically, a person or group who vocally disagree. However, if leaders notice their teams quickly take one side, they can intentionally assign one or more people to take on the devil’s advocate role and lobby for the underrepresented viewpoint.
The newly appointed devil’s advocate can feel confident in dissenting because there is no longer social pressure to conform. In fact, their contrarian views are now meant to be celebrated. In the absence of genuine dissent, even prescribed dissent can be a useful tool for identifying mitigating groupthink.
This article is the fourth installment in NLI’s new series, Groupthink: The Master Class, a 6-week campaign to help leaders understand the science behind identifying — and eliminating — groupthink.