The herd mentality can lead to negative outcomes. Here’s how to make sure it never occurs on your watch.
When you’re the new boss, it feels great to have employees agree with your decisions. But agreement isn’t always a good thing, as one of my clients found out.
“John” was new in his director-level role and needed to quickly assess several situations and make some decisions. During one meeting in particular, employees seemed to be paying close attention to the discussion. John was feeling especially good because when two employees spoke up in agreement with his decision, everyone else in the meeting easily went along with his recommendation.
Weeks later, it turned out that John had been missing key pieces of information that would have made a difference in his decision. “I don’t get it. They all sat there nodding their heads in agreement,” John explained. “Yet today I found out that a few people weren’t comfortable with my recommendation and had information that would have been helpful. Had I seen the information they had, I wouldn’t have made that decision.”
What John experienced is known as “groupthink” — when members of a group yield to the consensus or to the most vocal participants (such as a new boss) and fail to consider all the potential options and consequences.
In John’s situation, it happened because employees were afraid to speak out against their new boss’s decision. Groupthink can also occur when others question their loyalty when they speak out against the topic or direction (peer pressure), when the group is overly optimistic or when ethical considerations are ignored.
Groupthink can have negative consequences (as John found out), because it can lead to poor or even disastrous decisions. Here’s how to ensure groupthink never happens on your watch.
Increase awareness. The first step toward prevention is to make people aware of what groupthink is, as well as how and why it can occur.
Engage in open discussions. Create a culture where employees are encouraged to critically analyze situations and proactively share information and provide feedback.
Don’t shoot the messenger. As part of the process of engaging in open discussions, avoid criticizing anyone who speaks out with alternative opinions. Model the art of critical listening skills.
Assign a devil’s advocate. Ask one or more team members to play the role of devil’s advocate to ensure all sides of a topic are explored and discussed.
Bring in subject-matter experts. Internal or external subject-matter experts can help ensure a full understanding of all angles, consequences and options/alternatives.
Document the decision. Once a decision has been reached, have team members document it. Include the situation and associated problems, solution options, the recommended solution and why it was chosen.