Recognize and Diminish Team Groupthink

Posted by Kristin Arnold on November 9, 2021

Beware of groupthink when everything seems to be going swimmingly well.

As your team goes about making decisions, it takes just the right combination of courage to speak up and consideration to hear from others.  Team decision-making is a give-and-take, searching for a win-win.

However, when everything seems to be going swimmingly well — the team is focused on the goal, the team processes are “clicking,” decisions are made by consensus — your team may be prone to “groupthink.”

Groupthink is a subtle shift from effective decision-making to conformity and an unwillingness to “rock the boat.”  As a result, the team makes low-quality decisions.

Famous examples of groupthink include President Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion and the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster.

Author Jerry Harvey popularized this phenomenon with his story of the “Abilene Paradox.”  On a hot summer afternoon, someone in his family suggested they drive to Abilene for lunch.  Everyone agreed to the idea.  As a result, they took a despicably long and hot trip in a car with no air conditioning.  

No one had a good time.

When they arrived back home, they discovered that no one really wanted to take the trip but no one wanted to say “no.”  No one had the courage to challenge the idea. Even the person who made the suggestion didn’t want to go!

You are a prime candidate for groupthink if your team:

Is Highly Cohesive.  The team works well together, enjoys each other’s company, and has “bonded.”

Avoids Different Viewpoints.  The team discounts contrary information and/or discourages dissent.  They may even be insulated from other people or teams with different viewpoints.

Makes Decisions Easily.  Consensus comes easily — almost too easily.  Silence is usually accepted as consent.  

Is Highly Stressed.  The team is under high stress to deliver a quick solution.

Team members can become so concerned about avoiding conflict that they fail to challenge bad ideas.  To avoid groupthink or the Abilene Paradox, be willing to challenge ideas, no matter how loyal you feel to the team.  Make sure that no point of view dominates.  Collect information anonymously from team members.  Encourage the role of the devil’s advocate.  Don’t accept one point of view too readily, and challenge assumptions.


For more information about elevating your team results, processes and relationships, contact master facilitator, Kristin Arnold at 800.589.4733.

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 27 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.  Her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion was published in January 2021.

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Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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