8 Signs Groupthink May be Crippling Your Team

Have you ever wondered why some teams thrive while others struggle to survive? Research shows that there are invisible forces that may be undermining the success of your team.

For a while, consensus decision making was a thing, and lots of companies touted it as integral to their healthy democratic culture.

Consensus can’t be a bad thing… can it? Actually, it can – unless you’re armed and ready for groupthink.

Groupthink is a tricky concept. Irving Janis, a social psychologist credited as the first to develop the idea, defined it as a “psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group.” At first, Janis’ take on groupthink doesn’t seem so bad. After all, isn’t the point of meeting to gather folks together to come to an agreed-upon decision about what needs to be done?

Groupthink Groupthink is the desire to avoid dissent from the group’s position so as to maintain a consensus of the group.

Check out the video to find out how it can turn the most well-intentioned, intelligent, creative team into a group of people nodding and smiling while keeping their best ideas to themselves.

In his extensive research on groupthink, Janis developed a checklist of eight symptoms that your team may be crippled by a “smile and nod” culture. They are:

  1. Group cohesiveness is viewed as more important than individual freedom of expression
  2. The group operates in an insulated atmosphere
  3. Group leaders demonstrate impartial behavior
  4. There is no standard method in place for evaluating ideas and decisions
  5. Members’ social backgrounds and ideology are homogenous
  6. The group is under a lot of stress to perform
  7. The group has experienced recent failures
  8. There is excessive difficulty placed on the task of making a decision, such as a moral dilemma

And check out this post for more about groupthink and other biases that can cripple engagement and undermine a healthy company culture. 


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. Groupthink emerges because groups are made up of people with very similar values. Groups include people who like each other and have mutual respect. It is for all these reasons that when you try to make a decision, any contrary evidence that emerges from the consensus that has been generated is automatically rejected, even ridiculed.
    Experiments show that people quickly adopt the majority position and, above all, that all possible alternatives are ignored as well as any evidence that conflicts with the majority decision.
    The function of dissent is to stem or better, to monitor the consequences of the decisions to be taken. Dissent pushes the group to be aware of consensus issues and offer decision-making alternatives. To do all this, someone in the group must go against the tide of the majority and criticize. Encourage critical thinking. It is not easy but it can be done.