Groupthink is often regarded with a negative connotation because it can lead to the loss of individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking - the cornerstone of any thriving business. It can occur in groups of all sizes in any organization - but I have made it our mission to not have it happen at Marco.
Here are five ways I intentionally avoid groupthink in our organization:
1. Build a diverse team.
Avoiding groupthink starts with hiring and promotions. While it’s easier – and often natural – to hire and promote people who are like you and think like you, it is important to recognize the benefits of diversity on your leadership team. Successful leaders identify and promote employees who can augment their skill sets and add to the team’s chemistry.
While leaders often recognize the need to build a team of individuals with strong analytical, technical and expressive skills, they forget about the importance of individual personalities. That is where the true opportunity to avoid groupthink lies. Recognizing diverse personalities is one thing; however, fostering chemistry amongst those diverse personalities is the most important thing. Being able to play well in the sandbox together is a hallmark of our leadership team.
2. Intentionally structure meetings.
The structure of a meeting – in terms of both its consistent schedule and format – can help to avoid groupthink. In my opinion, meetings should never be a monologue or led by any one person - even the CEO. They can tend to be boring and lack audience attention and effectiveness. For over 25 years our leadership group has met each Wednesday with assigned topics and shared responsibilities for content. I have found this format has helped us avoid groupthink and I feel it has led to better decision making in our organization.
3. Engage outsiders.
Dominant personalities can often control a meeting, especially in a sales organization like ours. It’s my job to make sure other opinions are heard. I often spend time before a meeting to connect with a variety of individuals including the presenters to gain their perspectives on the meeting topic. I want to have a feel for where people stand before they walk into that meeting. This allows me to anticipate the likely outcome and make sure each voice is considered before a decision is made. The benefit of doing this is that we get buy-in for key decisions and we succeed or fail together.
4. Get unfiltered input.
This often starts with asking the right questions – the right way. To get unfiltered feedback, we need to ask our questions with that in mind. For example, I could say, “We have an opening for a new sales director and I think Bob has extensive sales experience and has shown initiative in the past year. Do you think he is the right person for the job?” Or I could say, “We need to find someone who has the skills to successfully lead our growing sales force. Who would you recommend and why?” In both cases, I am soliciting feedback. But in the first case, I already know what the answer is going to be because of how I asked the question. Be aware that when you are looking for feedback. How the question is phrased will determine the quality of the response.
5. Expect – even encourage – conflict.
It is important that individuals know that conflict is OK and even a natural part of our culture here at Marco. I would go as far to say that we encourage healthy conflict amongst our leadership team. There is an expectation that our leaders – and employees – respectfully challenge one another. Bearing that in mind, this requires our team members to have a confidence level that fits this style and can accept being challenged. I’m not big on having a line of “yes” people on my team.
We talked about groupthink and how to avoid it; however, we do pursue “group consensus” - which is a good thing and ultimately the desired outcome. What I mean by that is “groupthink” implies that our managers agreed to my point of view; therefore we made a good decision. On the other hand, “group consensus” takes into account the process of gathering unfiltered input and perhaps navigating through some conflicts to get to an ultimate decision. Obviously, we’re not going to agree on everything, but this process improves the potential for a better outcome.