Groupthink is a known evil according to the majority of leadership and decision making literature. Deadlock equally establishes itself as a block for productivity and innovation. Is there a balance somewhere in between, can individualistic innovators happily work in a cohesive group which has the appearance of Groupthink and conformity to an agreed vision. Why do we accept so easily that Groupthink is so bad, is this a form of Groupthink because of our own environment, learning, culture or value system. One rarely exerts any power or strength when swimming with a current, so swimming against a current can condition us and benefit us no matter how uncomfortable we feel when swimming against the current. Often in life it is these struggles which teach us the most and give us purpose and meaning. However before we even get near this phenomenon, what on earth is the leader doing?
Leadership must be sympathetic to the fact that we are all different. In today’s business world we are many cultures, religions, languages, political views, genders, ages and the list goes on. Yet we are expected to conform to the views of “collective wisdom” while at the same time being encouraged to express our own values, individualism and creativity. In saying this some people do not want to dissent, debate or express personal views which they do not feel confident in expressing, particularly when the overall consensus has been agreed upon. This is a problem in three senses:
- By not contributing or expressing a view we fall into the traps of Groupthink consequences
- A feeling of doubt in character may appear within the silent person which is equally negative
- The two problems above do not really apply if effective leadership is prevalent.
The real problem is not one and two, it lies in three. Great leadership can avert most challenges or deal with them constructively. In the Groupthink situation it is to be avoided at all costs and thus we set up systems which are devised to avoid this phenomenon and potentially we create another problem in Deadlock thinking, where we challenge everything as an individual at the expense of actually getting a job done on time in the most productive way. Whether it is Groupthink or Deadlock or Deadthink or Grouplock(these last two do not exist) it has got to be about how a leader effectively works in any team environment.
The solution is to look closely at leadership, however if we keep with the Groupthink theme we can draw it out. Leaders must understand the individual team members at any given time. This means leadership must know their people and if they don’t, they run the risk of never achieving the full potential of individual contribution. A leader should and must know how to engage a colleague for the best possible outcome in a team setting. Acceptance that some people will remain quiet is of no concern to begin with, what may be of more value is to allow them to settle and be encouraged to provide input as time goes on. Acceptance of agitators on the other-side is as important, however one must know how to manage a dissenter or a strong communicative charismatic personality. A leader must be aware of the backgrounds of the people who participate in a team environment, they may come from a cultural background where directive leadership is the norm and obedience to the will of a leader is viewed as being efficient. The focus is constantly coming back on the leader and how his/her style is implemented, added to this is the participative intelligence of a member within a team environment.
Groupthink may be acceptable in certain tasks or certain stages of the team’s life cycle. Certainly one would want Groupthink in an implementation stage and at the planning stage Groupthink is to be avoided. Therefore a leader must know when to ride the current in Groupthink situations and when to extract from people at the right time innovation and individual creativity. Team creation and make-up therefore becomes a starting point for a leader who understands the dynamics which could evolve in team interaction.
Above all the leader of today must be a road scholar in terms of leadership theory and experience in building team relationships for successful outcomes. If the Captain at the helm of the ship recognises that storms will come and navigates a true path through, he will be sure and reach his destination in tack no matter how high the waves, but he must know what he is doing.
The spectacular overall solution is simply to go back to the basics and learn, re-learn, un-learn, learn again and then apply. When this is the cycle of development in leadership training, start the process again and never stop.
The impact and effects of:
- Leadership acceptance of team member diversity:
Understanding of cultural differences and reactions, better relationships with members of the team, utilisation of strengths and innovation because of the diversity
- Leadership flexibility in leveraging different group phenomenon (Groupthink, Group polarisation and Deadlock as examples)
Suitable leadership style in a given scenario, when required a swim with the current and swim against the current mentality, ability to respond in a timely manner and with clear objectives
- Identification and make-up of teams
Correct balancing of team participants (innovators, agitators, worker-bees, etc)
- Leadership Scholars
Inspirational, astute, ever-learning, approachable, knowledgeable and proven
- Continuous Learning Cycles
Responsiveness to changing team environments, more effective leadership and always fresh
It starts with you, as leaders we are responsible for what we take in and spit out. Do not wait for leadership training to come to you, go and do an MBA!