We all use groupthink, whether we admit to doing so or not. I hear groupthink used as an epithet — “Avoid groupthink” or “That’s just groupthink.”
I gather that the point of the warning to avoid groupthink is to make sure that I do think. And question not only my assumptions but the assumptions of others. I don’t just follow along with the group only because I want to “belong.” So, how do we make groupthink a positive experience? And how do we put it to work in our businesses?
Having a diverse group is critical to creative problem-solving. Hopefully, the group is diverse in experience. It is the different ways individuals view a challenge that allows for creativity.
Diversity should include demographics such as age, gender, ethnicity, cultural background, and race. I believe that the more diverse the group is, the more creativity I will experience. There are, however, ample opportunities for a diverse group to experience unintended hurt feelings, cultural slights, or misunderstood communications. So, a few additional components of the organization’s culture need to be in place. The first is trust.
The culture for the group must be one of solid trust. When it comes to human relationships, trust is defined as, “I get that you authentically have my best interest at heart, not just your own.”
The team understands that everyone is coming from good intentions. Each teammate puts the interest of the group, the project, and the company ahead of his or her interest.
Another significant piece to a culture that supports creativity is safety.
The environment must be safe. Being safe means that my ideas will not be “shot down” rudely or abruptly. Everyone encourages “out of the box” ideas and suspends judgment while brainstorming. Even if my idea is eventually discarded, it isn’t personal, and I don’t take it personally. The goal is for the group to meet the challenge. Not that I will be the problem solver on my own.
For me, the bottom line is that groupthink often gets a bad rap. Done well, groupthink advances creativity and innovation.
Building a group comprising individuals with diverse life experience is a deliberate process. In my experience, it is well worth the effort and time to build such a group.
The group must work in a safe environment. No idea is judged as it is given. Instead, the group builds on each idea put forward to meet the challenge set before them. “And” is their favorite word. “But” is verboten.
The group is willing to challenge assumptions in service of finding out what is closest to the reality of their environment. They question any pat answer, and they do so with compassion and empathy. And here’s what I find most interesting: The intellect of the group exceeds the sum of the individual intellects. In other words, no one of us is as smart as all of us.