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Mar 20
Avoiding Groupthink: Check Your Ego at the Door

Author: Georgina Barrick


In one of my previous pieces 'Improving Hiring Success – Let Go of First Impressions', I spoke about the temptation to hire in your own image and likeness. It's a natural tendency – we like people who are similar to ourselves and who share our views and beliefs. With this kind of thinking, cohesion is prized, teambuilding is geared towards strengthening friendships, everyone (mostly) agrees and, in 'good' teams, conflict isn't encouraged.


Building a team of 'clones', with very similar backgrounds and thinking, can work – often very successfully. But there's a potential downside – groupthink.

Groupthink occurs when everyone thinks the same way. No-one challenges perceptions and there's no space for alternative ideas. If someone has a different view, they're swept along with the consensus and feel like they can't speak up or need to censor themselves to avoid conflict. This may lead to poor or badly made decisions, as ideas are simply embraced without debate and without really challenging the basis for making them.

So, while cohesion may initially boost team performance, being homogenous eventually hurts success – and the bottom line.

Over the last 20 or more years, the rise in prominence of EQ, and more recently CQ, means that we've come to understand that ego has no place in picking a great team. Getting the balance right between differing personalities is far more important – and successful in the long term.

Today, when I'm looking to expand my team, I focus on the following:


Make team diversity a priority.

Self-awareness – understanding your own strengths and weaknesses – is an important part of having the confidence to bring in different skill sets - and even people smarter than yourself.

Look for different personalities. To set up a truly balanced team, you need a blend of personality types including the results-orientated organiser, the relationship-focused diplomat, the conscientious process/ rule follower, innovative and disruptive thinkers and pragmatists.

To stimulate debate, seek out contrarians, critical thinkers and the naturally curious.

If you want to improve team effectiveness, surround yourself with dissimilar people who will help you to see all sides of issues and will enter into valuable, robust debate which, ultimately, will improve the decision-making process


Increase awareness.

Preventing groupthink starts with being able to identify the behaviour.

Make sure that your team knows what it is, how it occurs and what to do if they think it's setting in. There are also a number of thinking methods that teams can apply to ensure that an issue is examined from all appropriate sides.  An old, but still very useful, method is the De Bono 6 Hat thinking method


Encourage debate.

Many Gen X leaders have been socialised to avoid conflict. 'Respect your elders' teaches us that it's disrespectful or impolite to openly disagree or criticise. But, while dissent can be uncomfortable, it should be prized in team environments.

Create a culture where team members are encouraged to voice opinions, critically analyse problems and share feedback. To encourage debate, it's a good idea to assign a 'devil's advocate' to argue against the grain and to avoid criticising anyone who suggests an alternative perspective.   

However, don't let disagreements get too heated or fester. Dissent needs to be healthy.


Give everyone a voice.

Sometimes, quieter team members can get lost in the noise.

To overcome this, set up a suggestion box for anonymous suggestions or try 'brainwriting' where, rather than shouting out ideas, participants write their ideas down and pass the sheet to the next person, who adds their own ideas, leading to a group discussion.


Bring in outsiders.

Whether it's a subject matter expert or different team, get an outsider to review the situation and decisions made.


Document the decision.

Once the team has debated a problem and reached a solution, it's important to document the process. Try to include a detailed analysis of the situation, all possible solutions considered, a comprehensive breakdown of the recommended solution (and why it was chosen) and a project plan, covering how to implement the solution.


Selecting a team for high performance companies is about carefully identifying the sum of its parts. If you hire in own image, you'll miss out on competencies that you need to be a truly high-performance team. Bring in people who know more than you do in other areas – and get out of the way so that they can excel.


Paul Gibbons once said 'That which a team does not want to discuss, it most needs to discuss.'

Written by Georgina Barrick, MD of Cassel&Co, Insource IT Edge and The Working Earth, all divisions of ADvTECH Resourcing (Pty) Ltd. Georgina has over 20 years of recruitment and executive search experience. Connect with her on LinkedIn: Georgina Barrick.


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