Reducing Groupthink in remote meetings

Before you head into your next remote session have a think about your contribution.

Individuals often make bad decisions. We buy things we don’t need. We eat things we know we shouldn’t. We often get together to share decision making, thinking of the old adage ‘two-heads are better than one’, and concluding that therefore lots of heads should make great decisions! However, research shows that groups often make worse decisions than their individual members (See Reid Hastie and Cass Sunstein’s book,Wiser.) The term ‘Groupthink’ is the technical name for this occurrence – the dysfunctional decision-making of a group of people deliberating together. You have Groupthink when the value of the group is less than the sum of its parts.

Research has highlighted four specific varieties of Groupthink.

  1. Groups don’t just fail to correct members’ mistakes, they amplify them.
  2. Group members tend to follow those who speak first: the ‘cascade effect’.
  3. Groups tend to become more polarised and extreme than their individual members.
  4. Groups focus on what everyone knows and miss out on information that may be held by only one member.

Here are five proven strategies to counteract Groupthink in your next meeting.

  1. Listen to, and acknowledge, what people say. Use their words.
  2. Make sure everyone speaks early in a meeting.
  3. Leaders speak last.
  4. Invite difference. Separate divergent and convergent phases of discussion.
  5. Ask lots of non-judgemental questions to tease out different opinions and uniquely-held knowledge.

The way we enter an online meeting (or any meeting in general) can sometimes compound the problem of Groupthink. We sabotage our own meeting, thinking we are ‘doing the right thing’. For example, (most) people have a tendency to want to make online meetings as short as possible. Quick meeting is a good meeting right? Well, maybe, but not always. Looking through a Groupthink lens, the quickest way to finish a meeting with ‘agreement’ is for the leader to speak first, invite clarifying questions, then everyone agrees with them and the meeting ends. In fact, why bother to have a meeting at all? The leader could just send an email. This information-update is the very lowest level of conversation. It has its place, but it’s not conducive to effective, collaborative decision making.

Judith Glaser has a nice model of three levels of conversational quality. These could be explored more in order to increase the effectiveness of your next meeting.

  • Level I: Tell-Ask. Transactional, exchanging data and information
  • Level II: Advocate-Inquire. Positional, working with power and influence
  • Level III: Share-Discover. Transformational, co-creating a successful future.

How will you use the five strategies for reducing Groupthink?

2 thoughts on “Reducing Groupthink in remote meetings

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