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Are You A Victim of Groupthink?

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January 28, 2020

In 1972, social psychologist Irving L. Janis coined the term “groupthink.”  It “refers to a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group. In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group.” 

Raise your hand if you’ve been a victim of group think.

If so, Janis describes eight groupthink symptoms that you might recognize: 

  1. Illusions of invulnerability,
  2. Unquestioned beliefs,
  3. Rationalizing,
  4. Stereotyping,
  5. Self-censorship,
  6. Censoring problematic information,
  7. Illusions of unanimity
  8. Direct pressure. 

If this sounds eerily familiar, but you are not inclined to admit it, please don’t let me remind you of MC Hammer Pants, asymetrical or mullet style haircuts, or the most recent Pokemon-Go craze.  (Dare I say Macerana, anyone?)

The reality is that we’re all susceptible to setting aside our convictions aside in favor of getting along.  It’s naturally human.  Yet, this week, we’re reimagining how a form of groupthink shapes the most successful organizations, in terms of profit and productivity.

I argue that organizational culture is a form of group think.  In part because it requires a collective group of people to adopt a similar set of core values that govern how the individuals and entity-wide interactions, both externally and internally.

In The Culture Code: Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Dan Coyle takes a similar approach.  He defines culture as when a group is more than the sum of their parts.  Indeed, there’s quantifiable evidence that cohesive corporate cultures actually yield more net revenues than counterparts.

Culture Code overs threes distinct behavioral and leadership signals of an effective culture worth revisiting here.

  • Of course you should comply with OSHA regulations and avoid slip and fall accidents, but this form of safety is more nuanced.  In this sense, the organization creates space for human-to-human connection. How might the organization ensure that belonging is a paramount value such that team members are activated in their resolve to support each other.  Unsafe workplaces cause detached, competitive and mental “checking out.” Does your leadership cultivate a culture of safety?
  • A leadership culture that remains open around failure and weakness is fertile ground for vulnerability loops. That is, the cycle of disclosure and trust which is essential for team cohesion. A simple test is whether people have permission to celebrate failures.  Has the CEO or senior leadership ever uttered the phrase “I screwed up” when sharing accurate information about problems or missed opportunities?  A #nofail zone severely undermines trust in leadership and renders the value of “failing forward” non-existent.     Where do your vulnerability loops occur?
  • Clarity around the organizational why boils down to more than a well articulated mission statement.  While having a vision statement is one step better, the true barometer for collective purpose is whether everyone is moving in the same direction.  Casting a clear vision often requires repackaging the why into a vivid story of impact.  Much like an effective business model, an organization’s storytelling around the desired change it will see realized allows for every team member, customer, and affiliate to become executors in purpose.  What story does your culture tell?

So maybe a little group think is  not so counter-cultural.  I’m reminder of a favourite quote from Nelson Mandela, to which I add an addendum: “Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the worldtogether


Leigh-Ann / Venture Café Miami

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