5 warning signs of groupthink in the workplace

Groupthink is a condition where people become too alike in their thinking and, as a result, come up with poor decisions and courses of action. In the workplace this can be particularly devastating because the decisions made can impact the overall productivity and profitability of the organization.

The groupthink phenomenon tends to emerge when units of people have worked together for a long time and, due to this closeness, become too "like" in their way of thinking. A lack of innovation, willingness to share new ideas and inability to embrace change or differences are typically the beginnings of the negative effects that groupthink can cause.

While it is true groupthink sometimes emerges with seemingly no warning, if you know what to look for, the signs can be recognized much earlier. If noticed early on, leaders can come up with solutions to circumvent the groupthink and get the division(s) back on track.

5 warning signs of groupthink in the workplace

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1. Group is overly cohesive

While it is good for teams to have a level of cohesiveness, too much cohesiveness can start the slippery slope that leads to groupthink. Overly cohesive groups tend to know one another very well, are quite friendly and tight-knit.

While these signs may not be bad in itself, if they go further steps, this could easily lead to not enough diversity in thinking or rationalization, and lack the inability to be innovative and share differing thoughts. Another signal is if people react negatively to any new ideas presented that deflect away from the group's consensus.

2. Members of group won't make waves

It is natural for people to have differing opinions in various situations. If a particular group of colleagues don't ever seem to disagree, this could be due to a fear of rocking the proverbial boat. It may be that many of the group's members do not agree, but are simply afraid to make waves through speaking up. Occasional or frequent disagreement in opinions in the workplace is common, but to never have any divergence is not and can be a strong warning sign groupthink is present.

3. Heightened levels of complacency

Complacency is another clear indicator of groupthink. An attitude of unworried or concerned thinking is a warning sign and can be disastrous to the organizational setting. When too many individuals become complacent, this means that problems or issues may be overlooked and assumed to be going well when they are not.

4. Overconfidence

Even if people have made great decisions in the past, if they become overconfident and continue to use the same solutions, this can also have negative effects in continuously changing business environments, particularly where technology is concerned. Technology is only growing and today's teams have to be more open to new ideas and constantly changing circumstances, especially in environments where older solutions can no longer be effective.

5. Fear of colleague's reactions

If individuals don't speak up and share their opinions because they are afraid of making their coworkers angry or offending them, this is another strong indicator groupthink may be present.

These are a few of the more common warning signs of groupthink. Members of an organization afflicted by groupthink have a tendency to not look outside the proverbial box and explore differing options. As a result, those impacted tend to ignore alternative ideas and the organization can suffer; sometimes leading to dangerous conditions if safety is one of the goals. While recognizing the signs of groupthink in the workplace is valuable, doing something about it is even more effective by learning how to reduce the negative effects of groupthink.


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