Anne 🐝 Thornley-Brown, MBA in Executive Team Building Network, Directors and Executives, Marketing President and Founder • Executive Oasis International Mar 15, 2017 · 1 min read · +800

Avoiding Groupthink: Coming up with Better Team Decisions

Avoiding Groupthink: Coming up with Better Team Decisions


Robert Cormack and  Gert Scholtz have inspired me but my response to them is too long for a buzz. 

Groups and teams are increasingly important as organizations become increasingly complex. I agree with Robert and Gert. The way in which groups and teams are used in the decision-making process needs to be re-visited. Give the group a mission to come up with ideas and pick the best ones and groupthink is likely to set in. 




Groups are notoriously bad at coming up with great ideas, making decisions, and generating breakthrough strategies. No one wants to stick his or her neck out or go against the tide.

A far better approach is to:

  • Begin as a group and present the issue, problem or situation.
  • Provide ample opportunity for questions to clarify the issue.
  • Give individuals time to think and reflect. In fact, give individual quiet, reflection time before the group takes a break.
  • Provide a structured format to present ideas.

  • Send team members off to ponder over the situation individually, in pairs or trios.
  • Return with ideas at a later date or in an hour if it is a retreat.
  • Have each individual, pair or trio present ideas so all ideas are surfaced and heard.
  • Form small breakout groups with no more than 6 members.
  • Use a variety of tools to analyze ideas (i.e. idea maps, force fields, decision trees, storyboards). Do a thorough analysis.
  • Ensure that you give everyone "air time" and don't just let a few extroverts dominate.
  • Come back and present the analysis.
  • Boil ideas down into 2 or 3 that have merit.
Strike a smaller group (3 members tops) with some expertise on the topic at hand to go away to examine all ideas generated, come up with a decision, and formulate an initial plan of action to be reviewed by the group for feedback.

Appoint another group with the responsibility to flesh out and implement the plan. One member of the group that formulated the initial plan should be part of it.

This process will yield far more fruitful results than a free for all in which the best ideas get buried.

What strategies do you find most effective in avoiding groupthink and generating great ideas?

Photo Credit: ultura de Red (Flickr)


Anne Thornley-Brown
is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto team building and management consulting firm. She has designed and facilitated 
executive retreats, meetings, and team building for companies from 18 countries. 

Anne blogs for The Huffigton Post and a number of corporate clients and event industry portals.

#9 That is why facilitators need to accommodate diverse learning styles. GIve everyone 10 - 15 minutes to begin thinking on their own then give people the option for the next hours of:

- quiet reflection on their own
- working in pairs
- working in trios
- working in a small group

It is EXTREMELY important to ask each person to write on a card what their preference is and get them to hand it in at the end of the 10 - 15 minutes, otherwise, they will cave into the pressure of the herd and just go along with what the majority picks.

Form the groups based on what group members wrote on the cards. Then take a 5 minute break so that those who want to work individually don't feel pressured.

Another option is to add a question to your participant profile that is distributed before the executive retreat, team building, or meetings. Then you can pre-form the groups and assign breakout areas.

Have 2 quiet reflection areas, one with music and one without.

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Robert Cormack Apr 6, 2017 · #9

I like your thinking, @Anne Thornley-Brown, particularly giving people time alone. Some people are group thinkers, though. They'll go away and come back with nothing. "I'm collaborative," they'll say, which is why they like groupthink in the first place. There are also those who feel better suited critiquing other people's work. Again, groupthink works for them. The third problem is voting on the best idea (s). When groups make decisions, they always come to the middle. Whenever we brought ideas, the group consistently voted on the least daring. Believe me, Anne, I've watched hundreds of wonderful campaigns destroyed through groupthink. Things were much better when the owner of the agency simply walked in and said "I like that won." Less time, less people, and obviously less money.

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Erroll -EL- Warner Mar 18, 2017 · #8

Anne great article. From experience dealing with groups and presenting alternative ideas usually met with the response like, "you seem to think you knows everything". However, later on one would hear, "I think his ideas are more workable". Be prepared for reaction and don't take it personal.

+1 +1

If I were you I would apply your idea @Anne Thornley-Brown. Cross-pollination of many circles with each circle representing a different idea. In a way I see your suggestion as an alternative to the fishbone analysis. Circles take less area and allows for better focusing. We may even highlight the connecting ideas between two circles to represent its strength/ relevance. Bravo @Anne Thornley-Brown

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Our thoughts are definitely in alignment. I like the process you describe and I would also add another layer. Use an outer circle similar to the format for a forum role-play. Let the interaction you described take place in the centre of the circle. It is a way of exposing the whole group to divergent points of view. If the group is large, you can have many circles simultaneously. How about introducing some cross-pollination between the circles after set intervals? The result will be richer ideas.

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Dear @Anne Thornley-Brown- Again, I am mesmerized by you this morning. You wrote "Groups are notoriously bad at coming up with great ideas, making decisions, and generating breakthrough strategies. No one wants to stick his or her neck out or go against the tide".Then you dwelled on giving the prescription how to reduce groupthink. If you would read my presentation on same topic I am confident you shall see the "proximity of thinking" between us. I fully agree with your analysis and remedies.
https://www.slideshare.net/hudali15/unequal-opposites

+2 +2

You inspired me Gert.

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Gert Scholtz Mar 15, 2017 · #3

@Anne Thornley-Brown I think your are spot on in the method of optimal idea generation! Very good post and thanks for the mention Anne.

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