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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  • http://www.wordworks.jp John McCreery

    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.

  • http://www.twitter.com/PaulaGray Paula Gray

    Hi John,
    Thanks for your comment and kudos for applying anthropology in the creative ad industry. I am enjoying the conversation on Neuroanthropology where we all are discussing how to make anthropology relevant to the average person. As I said in that post, I think we are hard-pressed to find a place where anthropology is not relevant.
    This Going Native blog is about, as you mention, the intersection of multiple tribes. What better discipline than anthropology to offer insight into the shared culture of those tribes, and how to deal with the sometimes conflicting language, beliefs, values when those tribes collide.
    Who hasn’t looked across the meeting room and seen the Bigman? Isn’t there some parallel between how information or resources are circulated around the office and Mauss’ Kula ring of Melanesia?
    It makes perfect sense to me that we also use this discipline (which I think is the most holistic and well rounded view of the context within which all buying decisions are made) to inform how brand cultures are built. It sounds like you have been doing all of that, and then some. I’d love to hear more about what you are doing at Hakuhodo.