In 1972 psychiatrist Irving Janis published a fine book, titled Victims of Groupthink (Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company). Janis used ‘groupthink’ to describe the dynamic that afflicted the Kennedy administration when the president and a close-knit band of advisers authorized the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in 1961. The president’s view was that the Cuban people would greet the American-backed invaders as liberators who would replace Castro’s dictatorship with democracy. His advisors ‘heard’ only reports that confirmed this view. The result was a disastrous wrong decision to invade Cuba.

Formally, “groupthink”  is defined as a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group. During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance.

Avoiding groupthink is absolutely crucial when teams engage in innovation. There exists a difficult inherent paradox. Teams strive for intense smooth collaborative interaction. Often, friction, disagreement and contentiousness are frowned upon. Yet, when consensus is sought too quickly and too single-mindedly, the creative juices arising from fierce debate and conflict evaporate. 

Ask yourself: In your teams, and in your organization, is there a strong groupthink mindset? What are the inherent dangers? Has groupthink led to bad decisions in the past? 

How can you dispel groupthink by encouraging dissent, without ruining teamwork and cohesion?

In this, as in other areas of innovation and creativity, there are no pat answers. Each manager must find his or her own solution.

One approach used successfully at TIM is scenario planning. By encouraging team members to develop alternate, different scenarios,  the groupthink tendency to zero in on a single forecast can be avoided.