Have you ever had the experience of being in a team meeting and felt the need to speak up but decided against it because you felt you would appear unsupportive of the leader or the team? With your desire of maintaining harmony and avoiding conflict, you decided to hold your piece. That my friend is your run-in with groupthink.
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.
Groupthink is more likely to occur in the church than any other organization because in the church, we are called to live in peace and harmony. We believe that if we can’t agree and get along, then we are not being the church as Christ intended it to be. Paul in Romans 12:16, 18 calls us to live in harmony and peace with each other.
Groupthink is likely to occur because leaders, as a way of introducing what they want their followers to support, often say to their followers, “the Lord said to me . . .” or “the Lord is leading me to do such and such.” When many followers hear that, they are not willing to go against what “the Lord” is saying or where He is leading.
In churches, groupthink can lead to poorly executed events and failed building projects. These are relatively benign outcomes compared to groupthink at its worst. Charismatic leaders who believe they’ve been endowed with a special message from God can lead people to an untimely death, or engage them in deadly crusades against those they perceive to be their enemies.
The desire for harmony, conformity and the avoidance of conflict can easily lead to groupthink in any organization. Groupthink keeps us from being objective and critical, and from considering alternative viewpoints when making decisions in the organization.
If there is groupthink in the organization or team you are leading, it will be primarily your fault. If you are insecure, don’t have good communication skills and haven’t developed your Emotional Intelligence (EQ), then your followers will not be free to be honest and open with you. They will be afraid to challenge you or give honest feedback because your insecurity will cause you to come across as defensive and authoritarian. Combined with poor communication and low EQ, you will be experienced as unapproachable. Dismantling or avoiding groupthink always begins with the leader being experienced as approachable, secure in who he is, having good communication skills and high EQ.
How to overcome or avoid groupthink
You must create a culture where people feel free to express opinions and challenge assumptions and decisions without fear of being judged, ridiculed or victimized. Keep in mind that our first instinct is to self-protect. Therefore, most people will self-protect rather than risk getting hurt. As a leader, you have to establish a culture where your followers can feel safe so they don’t resort to groupthink as a means of self-protecting.
Invite each person to share their opinion on the topic being discussed, and when they do they should receive your undivided attention and that of the team also. The quickest way to create groupthink is to show disrespect for the opinions of your team members.
Are the people you lead following with a groupthink mentality or are they genuinely invited to participate in the decision-making process where they can be objective, and honestly share their opinions without fear of appearing unsupportive and causing conflict?
A healthy team is where members are free to express their opinions without fear, and their opinions are solicited and respected when they are given.
Do you lead with groupthink or are your followers genuinely invited to be a part of the process in deciding what the organization is doing?
If you would like help in achieving your goals as a leader or in any area of your life, call us at 208-880-0307 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a complimentary coaching session. To read Errol’s other posts, visit Christ-Centered Life Coaching.