Many of the problems with teams are obvious, yet some are hidden from view. You may think your team is running along smoothly—and on the surface they may appear to be productive. Yet if there isn’t some degree of tension, if people aren’t actively discussing issues, hidden problems can result in undesirable outcomes.
One of the complaints I hear frequently from the people I work with as an executive coach is the lack of time to get work done because of meetings. Meetings are time consuming, and all teams require them. But how effective are they? That’s where problems get discussed—but do they?
“Just when teams most need to draw on the full range of their members’ knowledge to produce the high-quality, uniquely suitable outcomes they started out to deliver, they instead begin to revert to the tried and true,” Gardner writes.
Under pressure, teams gravitate toward safe ground. While most start out highly engaged, inviting input from everyone, members become risk-averse as they push toward project completion. They maneuver toward consensus in a way that blocks paths to critical information.
This process occurs through subtle language cues that warn team members to avoid delays. Team leaders use their positional power to foster harmony and swift decision-making. Although discussions still appear to be open, in reality there’s an effort to move the project along by getting everyone to agree on the optimal course.
If this sounds like “groupthink,” —it is. But it’s more nuanced and subtle—hence, more dangerous.
Groupthink, originally researched by Yale University psychologist Irving Janis, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups. It’s a mode of thinking that occurs when a decision-making group’s desire for harmony overrides its realistic appraisal of alternatives.
Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus, without critically evaluating additional ideas or viewpoints. Factors like group cohesiveness and situational context help determine whether groupthink will contaminate the decision-making process.
The negative cost of groupthink is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. Organizationally, these consequences lead to costly errors in product launches, service policies and competitive strategies.