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Lacking Innovation? Groupthink May Be To Blame.

By: :: Published: December 3, 2013

As many leaders and companies have become risk-averse amidst unprecedented levels of uncertainty — resulting from the 2008 financial crisis, increased regulation and other changing conditions — it’s no surprise that their growth and innovation is waning. What leaders fail to realize, however, is the stagnancy resulting from not taking any risk or making any tough decisions can be even more dangerous than taking chances with traditional “risk” or investment. In reality, this “comfort zone” will not be so comfortable after all when competitors forge ahead, innovate and adapt to better serve customers, and leave the laggards in the dust.

When leaders and teams lack a robust decision-making process, groupthink — a common bias that afflicts teams where team members tend to conform to a prevailing view — often takes hold. This leads teams to a lack of challenging and limited imagination in discussing or seeking non-conventional solutions. Such teams tend to stay in a “safe” zone and are dominated by one or two strong opinion leaders. They lack innovation and strategic thinking.

To combat groupthink on their teams, leaders can employ a few tips or ground rules:

  1. Designate a set “devil’s advocate” role to present contrarian viewpoints to inject debate into team meetings; some teams have one or two members actually research a contrarian view and set up a debate.
  1. Introduce peer review where team leaders from other teams join and evaluate the output or decisions of a group and suggest alternate options.
  1. Ask team members to submit several different ideas prior to a meeting to promote creative thinking, and then create a structure where these are introduced for discussion without attribution to any team member.
  1. Conduct a scenario thinking, or “what if,” exercise where the team looks at several possible future scenarios (e.g. the price of natural gas goes up or down) and explores which decisions or innovations would hold up best under diverse circumstances.
  1. Develop a set of options for any team decision. Build time into the team discussion to debate the options based on a few criteria related to the likely impact and feasibility of each alternative. Options thinking is an antidote to groupthink as it forces consideration of multiple choices before settling on one.
  1. Build nudge strategies that encourage risk and innovative thinking within the team. Hold team members accountable for coming up with “higher risk” ideas that are presented to the team lead on a regular basis.

While groupthink is just one of many factors that can stifle innovation, by identifying where and how it is tainting the decision-making process, and taking action to inspire progressive thinking, leaders can begin to jumpstart growth efforts and more creative thinking with their teams.

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