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Effective Decision Making

Eliminating Groupthink

Groupthink is the tendency of group members to allow conformity and team loyalty to guide their decisions. It also inspires a sense of invulnerability, as if the team’s decisions will always be infallible.

When a team falls prey to groupthink, it censors dissenting opinions, seeks unanimity at any cost, and fails to seek other solutions.

You can overcome groupthink by using the following techniques:

  • initially downplay the strength of your own opinions,
  • assign a rotating devil’s advocate role to members of the group seek feedback from an external expert

Initially downplay the strength of your own opinions

If you know that your opinion will influence others in your group, you should avoid expressing it in the early stages, otherwise some members may simply adopt your view rather than try to generate ideas themselves.

You can certainly contribute ideas, but do not re-emphasize them; otherwise people may take them as a mandate. Similarly, avoid using persuasive language that reveals your preferences.

Assign a rotating devil’s advocate role to members of the group

The devil’s advocacy technique received its name from a traditional practice within the Roman Catholic Church. Before a church member was elevated to sainthood, the College of Cardinals appointed an official to investigate and express all the reasons the candidate’s canonization should not be approved.

You can apply this technique by appointing one team member to criticize potential ideas, explaining why they may not work. Nominate a different person to play this role during each meeting. Rotating the responsibility means members will never take the role for granted and that there will always be a dissenting voice to the adverse effects of groupthink.

Seek feedback from an external expert

Decision-making groups can become insulated, conformity-seeking units if they spurn input from outside sources. You must ensure that the person you choose to consult has sound knowledge and experience of the subject you want to discuss. You must also check that this expert has no vested interest in the actions of your team.

Once you have established that his knowledge and motivation are sound, you can ask for the expert’s opinion on both the decision-making process and the potential solutions identified by the group.

If you use the above techniques, you can overcome groupthink in a way that eliminates its unfavorable presence and keeps your team’s atmosphere creative.


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