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Stop Groupthink and Maintain Individuality in a Team

A team dynamic is a puzzle. Fitting all the pieces together into a coherent final image is an art and science that takes practice, patience, and a lot of trail and error. Fortunately, a team that has great potential is aware of these steps and works to maximize the positive dynamic of having strong members in a team.


photo credit: IronRodArt – Royce Bair (“Star Shooter”) via photopin cc

Yet even a strong set of individuals may struggle in building a coherent team that avoids “groupthink“.

In immediate terms, groupthink is the tendency for the more outspoken leaders to make decisions, and others to naturally agree because opposing it is too difficult or painful (internally or externally). It could also mean that the ones that are simply following the leader legitimately do agree, but they may not be flexing all their creative muscle to add more to the process. When the dominant forces of a team make a decision, others follow for the convenience of going with the flow, aversion to potential pain (e.g., being ridiculed), or simple laziness of not wanting to step up to it.

So how do you build a coherent team that doesn’t devolve into groupthink? Here are some tactics that may work depending on the individuals and the situation:

  1. Have a Pre-determined Mediator. A strong mediator will help downplay the more dominate members of the group while increasing the visibility of ideas and input from less dominate team members.
  2. Promote Healthy Conflict. In a case where something has many options, have a mediator intentionally channel the conflict so that the conflict is discussed as a healthy debate rather than by forceful persuasion.
  3. Facilitate Rather Steer Creativity. Mediators don’t suggest, they facilitate. For example, if an executive is in a team meeting, there is a high risk that the executive’s suggestions will be supported by default–so instead, the executive would do better to serve as a mediator by asking probing questions.

The ultimate goal of a team should be to maximize the input of each team member into the final product. When working through a tricky problem in a professional setting, team members generally have a roughly equal potential for developing the best solution, so be sure to give them the opportunity.

In my own business I have to often force myself to, well, shut-up and listen to my staff and their ideas. As the owner of the firm, I constantly want to SOLVE PROBLEMS but staff will automatically defer to my judgement. This may feel good  in the short-term, but long-term it is dysfunctional and will limit the growth of the team members. If I stay quiet for a bit and actually encourage my team to make own suggestions then they’ll learn to trust their own judgement (i.e., their gut), to take ownership of their power and responsibilities within the firm, and grow into THINKING and ACTING as leaders.

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