One Foot In

Groupthink kills good ideas


Discover how to steer clear of Groupthink and ignite innovative thinking within your team. Explore strategies to prevent consensus-driven decision pitfalls, foster dissent, and employ creative exercises for fearless idea generation in a collaborative environment.

First, What is groupthink?

Irving Janis is the psychologist who coined the term “Groupthink”. He discovered the phenomenon after studying ‘group decision-making under stressful conditions’ in 1971. Janis found that people often won’t share doubts or judgments on a decision if the rest of the group agrees that it’s a good idea.

Janis coined a term for what everyone who’s ever sat in a meeting—experiencing excruciating pain—knows all too well. Groupthink is real, and it kills potentially good ideas.

There are numerous examples of Groupthink causing bad outcomes. The NASA Challenger Disaster? Attributed to Groupthink. SwissAir’s 2001 collapse? Also Groupthink.

Very rarely are decisions so serious, but even for morale, groupthink is dangerous.

So what are we to do?

How do you prevent Groupthink in teams?

Here are some exercises and off-site tips for avoiding Groupthink and bringing out the best ideas—fearlessly.

Stop brainstorming

  • Pre-brainstorm
    Brainstorm without others. Statistically, you have better ideas alone.
  • Don’t interrupt, find synergy
    Come together and share ideas without interrupting each other. This avoids the ‘loudest voice in the room’ syndrome and allows introverts to shine in a setting they typically avoid sharing in. Now, look for synergies in thinking. This is positive ‘Groupthink’.
  • Have concrete goals
    Lead the brainstorm, don’t just let it happen. Pull people out when they jump on a bandwagon. Have tangible goals you want to achieve. This will limit rabbit-hole thinking.

Allow dissent

Janis said: “People often won’t share doubts or judgments on a decision if the rest of the group agrees that it’s a good idea.”

  • Start with the bad
    We know. Negativity is hard for leaders. And it’s not always great for teams except when they are trying to collectively attack what’s not working. ‘What do you think is not working’
  • Name the issues
    Have people list what’s working (and what isn’t) and assign a term to why. Eg. This system is onerous, Eg. This process is taking too long. This allows people to tackle it differently.
  • Challenge everyone to challenge
    Throughout the ‘thinking’ process, however long, ask: ‘Is this the best we can come up with? Should we pause on this idea and approach from another angle and come back?’

Play ‘What If’

There are a few ways to play this game, and this type of approach is particularly good for offsites.

  • ‘What If’ Audiences
    Play different roles. Have team members come at the problem from different stakeholder or consumer angles. If you’re the patient, what’s the best solution? If you’re on the finance team, what is the solve? They don’t have to have expertise; it just opens the lines of thinking.
  • ‘What If’ Solutions
    Come up with temporary solutions. Account for time to explore a few in greater detail. Don’t overanalyze until a few approaches have been explored.
  • ‘What If’ Nothing / One Thing
    What if nothing changes? There’s typically a bias towards not changing anything, so putting a mirror on that leads to different thinking. Alternatively, ‘What if you only changed one thing in the idea/system/solution which would you pick’. Try to have a no-double-up policy to explore different ideas.
  • ‘What If’ It Didn’t Work
    We’re 50/50 on negative visualization but depending on your team and the problem, one option is to preempt an issue with a ‘what if it didn’t work, what went wrong?’ approach or a pre-mortem. An imaginary post-mortem for an outcome that hasn’t yet happened. To prevent groupthink, we suggest not dropping this at the start of a meeting but, instead, prompting this before ensuring people come up with their solutions for ‘what went wrong’.


Find these tips helpful? Want to book an offsite series for your team to bring out the best ideas? Drop us a note.

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