3 Ways to Avoid Groupthink

Groupthink is a concept within social psychology (okay so I'm stepping off my anthropology soapbox and borrowing one from my friends at soc-psych) that defines a style of group decision making where individuals are more motivated to agree rather than voice their own, differing opinion.  While it may seem less contentious, it lacks the point of group decision-making, which is the input of a variety of perspectives and opinions.

As a product manager sitting in the center of the organization, your opinion is crucial.  You have a unique perspective - not part of development, marketing, sales, or distribution but at the central hub of them all.  I like to think of the product manager as providing balance.   However, if you are not willing to state your opinion respectfully and clearly, the entire group is denied your valuable insight (I know, sometimes they don't recognize the valuable part).

In an age where consensus and cooperation is the key, it should not be at the cost of the critical discussion and evaluation, needed to examine alternative viewpoints.

Here are three key points that create an environment where group discussion can lead to good decisions and avoid the pitfalls of the dreaded groupthink:

  1. The task at hand needs to be the driving force, not social harmony - now is not the time to conform.
  2. Leaders need to encourage people to share alternative perspectives - you don't need to protect the leader from contrary views.  If you are the leader, make it known that it's okay for group members to hold a differing opinion.
  3. Put procedures in place to ensure that group members critically evaluate all ideas and gather outside feedback where appropriate - don't view outside opinions as inherently inferior.
By fostering an environment where differences are welcomed, the team or group can benefit from a multitude of complex viewpoints.  At times, things may get intense but as a product manager, did you really ever think you were going to be immune from conflict?  Not a chance.

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves"
--Psychologist, Carl Jung

Paula Gray
the anthropologist

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Tracked back from your comment on Neuroanthropology. Was never a product manager but, besides being an anthropologist (Ph.D. Cornell, 1973), am the only anthropologist I know of who has also spent 30 years working in and around the Japanese ad industry, including 13 years as an English-language copywriter and creative director for Hakuhodo, Japan's second largest agency. Working at the intersection of multiple tribes? I've done a lot of that.

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