Having a team that works well together is something that leaders obviously strive for.  We want respect, encouragement, engagement and team creativity.  Many leaders will try to avoid any form of conflict from happening, worrying that this can only cause them issues.  However, what we need to be aware of is when there’s a pressure to conform to a group decision, rather than being encouraged to highlight and act on individual experience and ideas.  This is also known as group-think.

Group-think is one our shortcuts to decision making (cognitive bias), or “rules of thumb”.  In this case, wanting to be part of a social group (or management team) can cause us to think and behave in a way we might not have done on our own (or by using our own experience).  By following others, team members can avoid a negative reputation.

As an example, group-think can appear obvious when there are newcomers to the team who others may see as irrational or too different (not fitting in with the culture).

Ultimately however, it can often be the cause of decisions that have ended up being extremely risky ones to have taken because the direction being taken lacked any real challenge.

Group-think happens when you have a persuasive leader, too high a level of team cohesion, or pressure from external sources to make the right decision.  So it’s worth watching out for the following:

  • If no-one speaks out, everyone (especially the leader) can think the decision is unanimous.
  • The team thinks their track record for making decisions shows that they are always right.
  • Being convinced a decision is the best one, despite evidence to the contrary, or thinking others aren’t as knowledgeable or experienced as we are.
  • Individuals think they must be wrong if everyone else is agreeing.
  • Information is ignored as nonsense or unimportant, if it doesn’t support the decision.
  • Team members pressurising another individual who opposes their opinion and rationale.
  • As a group becomes more cohesive, they think outsiders are too different or inferior. A good example is the “differences” in priorities for sales, marketing, operations, finance etc.

To help ensure that decisions are effective, look out for signs of the above, discuss the concerns with the team, ask questions, provide a safe environment for everyone to contribute, and (if necessary) find way to validate a decision with more information, testing assumptions or getting an external review.

Leaders who are confidence with their team challenging their thinking can ensure that diversity of experience and knowledge is used at its best, and decisions have covered the necessary eventualities.   A team that is too cohesive, and/or agree with your every decision, might end up causing you more issues in the long run.


If you are interested in finding out how Executive Coaching can help leaders and their teams work better together, please contact us.

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