When working on a project, each member of a team typically works toward reaching consensus on the decisions that need to be made. Furthermore, most people want to minimize the opportunity for conflict, which can make meetings uncomfortable and ultimately distract a team from its overall aims. Unfortunately, at times, this desire to avoid conflict supersedes people’s willingness to challenge a popular idea, because they fear that raising their concerns will brand them as “troublemakers” and disrupt the unity they’d worked so hard to achieve.
As Cindy Griffin and Jennifer Emerling Bone state in their text Invitation to Human Communication, group members should “…remember that a degree of cohesion is important—members need to feel like they are working toward a common goal—but too much can be dangerous and cause a group to fall into groupthink” (173). Therefore, the person who identifies the potential problems inherent in a plan should, in fact, speak up, as his or her words may ultimately help the group avoid those problems or mitigate their overall effect.
Some students may feel too shy, nervous, or unqualified to counter their fellow students’ enthusiasm around a certain idea or plan. Yet, they need to realize that taking a risk and respectfully sharing their concerns may just pay off in a greater degree of success for the team. These questions, which appear in Invitation to Human Communication, can help your students think about how they might address what they believe to be a flaw or error in a group’s plan. You may wish to use these questions as part of your discussion time when you launch a group project in your course:
Imagine you are working with a group of students to complete a class project. At the first meeting, the other students quickly decide on a project idea and begin dividing up the work. You are concerned that the other members rushed into a decision without discussing other ideas. Consider how you will respond. Now discuss as a class ways to handle and respond to groupthink. (182)
Reference: Griffin, Cindy and Emerling Bone, Jennifer. 2014. Invitation to Human Communication. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
How do you encourage students, colleagues, and others to avoid groupthink? What are your strategies for confronting it in your own work? Share your ideas and experiences below, or submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org.