6 Simple Ways to Manage Group Thought and Workplace Risk

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This guest article is by Dr Mike Clayton, who is the brain behind OnlinePMCourses.com. This is an edited excerpt from his book Risk Happens!
Dr Mike ClaytonIn 1970, Irving Janis, a social psychologist, studied how groups make decisions. He discovered that group dynamics often prevent exploration of alternative options.
Because people find disagreement uncomfortable, the group seeks consensus before reaching a satisfactory conclusion.
As the group approaches consensus, any dissenting voices are either rejected or are often self-censored. Janis wrote:
Concurrence-seeking can become so dominant in a cohesive team that it tends over-ride realistic appraisals of alternative actions.
Group Think is a tendency to make decisions based on “what everyone knows”. This means that members are prevented from challenging the consensus and not fully exploring relevant information and challenges.
Janis described Group Think by stating that it occurs when members’ strivings to unanimity override the motivation to objectively evaluate alternative courses of action.
Group thinking introduces risk
Group Think results in a greater collective confidence than individuals in a decision. Groups are more likely to support higher-risk decisions than individuals, since dissent is discouraged. This is known as a “risky shift” by psychologists.
People who are more extreme than others are more likely to form clear arguments and to voice them.
Early comments in a debate are more influential in shaping opinions and creating the context for the discussion. If Group Think endorses a particular view, members of the group might feel empowered to offer more extreme points.
The difference between the average risk taken and the risk taken collectively is called a risky shift. This can lead to a risky shift towards higher risk or a cautious shift toward a more risk-averse position.
Risk management will make your project manager more effective, so it’s worth taking some time to think about how to tackle this issue.
How to get rid of groupthink at work
James Surowiecki wrote these words in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds.
The information that is most discussed in unstructured, free-flowing discussions is paradoxically the information that everyone already knows.
To prevent Group Think, it is important to ensure that new information can easily be presented, that dissenting voices are heard, and that criticisms can be made.
Six Tips to Deal with Group Thinking
Here are 6 tips to deal with Group Think.
1. Appoint a devil’s advocate
Ask one member of your team to be the “devil’s advocate” to challenge any consensus by providing contrary evidence, new logic, or a fresh perspective.
The Corporate Fool is a book by David Firth, Alan Leigh, and which identifies different ways to shake up the status quo and soft thinking in organizations. They borrow from the roles of the medieval ruler’s fool.
The “contrarian” challenges norms, while the “truth-seeker”, tells hard truths. This is the cure for Group Think.
Mike’s book Risk Happens! has a bright cover. Encourage everyone to be a critical assessor
There is no reason to believe that we shouldn’t all take on the role of devil’s advocate. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats approach for creative and critical thinking suggests that we should use two hats, the White Hat and Black Hat, to help us evaluate the evidence logically and with all the data available (White Hat), and to challenge, critique and evaluate everything that has been suggested (Black Hat).
To avoid Group Think, encourage your project managers to have all members of the team wear their White Hats and Black Hats.
3. Don’t let the leader dictate your course.