Written by Charlotte Duckworth

3 steps to minimise groupthink

28th May, 2024   •  


“It looks like we all agree then!” 

It’s always nice when there is unanimous agreement with the decisions you make.

Or is it? 

Sometimes what people are not saying can be much more important than the need for consensus.

Can you think of a time where you have agreed to a particular choice, just to avoid disagreement? Or considered saying something but worried how the group might judge you? Perhaps you thought about speaking up and then decided against it because you did not want to appear unsupportive of the group’s efforts? 

Whether conscious or subconscious, when we conform to decisions and thoughts we disagree with, we are subject to “groupthink”.



What is groupthink? 

Groupthink is where individuals in a group tend to think or make decisions in a similar way. We push aside our personal opinions and critical thinking. Instead we prioritise consensus as a group and this typically results in poor, unchallenged choices with detrimental outcomes.


Why is it important to minimise groupthink? 

Groupthink can have significant, negative implications. A lack of challenge and opposing viewpoints can lead to poor decision making, engagement, autonomy and ultimately, high performance. 

There are many high profile failures that groupthink has contributed to, and the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster is a prime example. In the months before the launch, the engineers were aware of some of the faulty parts, but they wanted people to be interested and excited for the spaceflight, so chose not to speak up and delay things… 73 seconds into flight the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart, a disaster killing all seven crew members. Groupthink explains part of how leaders and decision makers played a major part in this catastrophe in 1986.



Causes of groupthink

Groupthink can appear in many different contexts. Having said that, it is most likely to occur in a few common environments. These include when: 

  • Individuals are afraid to speak up – There is a lack of trust and alternative opinions are not given for fear of judgement 

“Ha! Not sure that’s your best idea!”

  • Loyalty is questioned – When others question our commitment to the success of the team if we challenge an idea

 “If you truly think that we’re making an error, maybe you should take less of a role in this project”

  • The group is overly optimisticThere is an air of superiority and overconfidence in positive outcomes. This results in a lack of critical thinking

“You’ve seen our track record, it won’t be like that for us, this always works!”

  • A group has a strong leader – If the leader is opinionated, respected or even revered, we are much more likely to form unquestioning agreement

Leader stating, “We need to come to a decision on X and I’ve been thinking we could do ABC, what do you think?” Team nodd. 

  • Experiencing pressure to make the right decision – There is an urgency and a need to unite because the impact of the decision is important

“If we don’t get this right we could risk XYZ, let’s make sure we are aligned and decide quickly”

So what can we do about it?



3 strategies to minimise groupthink 

1. Awareness of groupthink 

The first step we can take to mitigate groupthink: Increase our awareness by identifying when it appears in our collaboration, decision-making and actions.

Increasing our awareness requires us to recognise our bias. The dilemma with our unconscious bias is that it’s unconscious… so we can’t have direct control over it, but increasing our knowledge of how it can appear gives us perspective and encourages us to critique our thinking. 

This visual illustrates the biases closely associated with groupthink: 

As a result of each of these biases, our brains chose to conform and remove critical thinking and debate from the situation. We might agree with someone because we relate to them on a personal level or because we admire their expertise. Increased awareness enables us to plan and incorporate practical processes to minimise our risk of being influenced by our bias, and of groupthink.

2. Challenge analysis paralysis 

‘Analysis paralysis’ describes the feeling when we become overwhelmed by choice, overthinking and second-guessing the decisions we have made. We can probably all relate to feeling caught up, overwhelmed and indecisive about a challenging decision or problem! In a group setting, this can tempt us to reach quick consensus, increasing our risk of groupthink. 

To challenge analysis paralysis, it can be useful to have a quick process to take a step back and evaluate alternatives with a more logical and rational approach. This can be incredibly simple and snaps us out of going round in circles.


For example

If you are looking to make a decision between two options, label your options ‘A’ and ‘B’, and for each:

  • Ideation of the benefits
  • Log all of the potential risks 
  • Consider how you can reduce each of the risks


This process brings structure to discussions and enables you to consider how you can move forward, set actions to mitigate the risks and come to a confident decision.


3. Encourage healthy debate

If we are aware of when groupthink is likely to influence our ideas and decision making, there are practical strategies we can introduce including: 


  • Preparation and thinking time – So that individuals arrive with an opinion developed
  • Leaders speak last – Those who have influence over the group ensure that others have voiced their opinions first 
  • Smaller group discussions – Enabling debate and solutionising between fewer individuals. The smaller group are less likely to stay silent if they have generated a different option together!
  • Digital sharing platforms – To anonymise idea sharing and remove fear of judgement, useful tools include Mentimeter, Miro and virtual whiteboards
  • Encouraging  a challenger – To question, bring debate and encourage the group to think critically
  • ‘Second chance’ meetings – A second meeting to allow for remaining doubts to be raised and considered
  • Educate the group on the groupthink phenomenon and bias – So that individuals can recognise where they are falling into these mental shortcuts
  • Voting techniques to create a clear picture on the extent of agreement


Each of these techniques encourages share of voice, different opinions and challenge into the group discussion. We are less likely to keep our ideas and opinions to ourselves and less likely to be subject to groupthink. 


In summary 

Groupthink can have a significant, negative impact on the ability of a team to generate different ideas and make the best decisions. To minimise groupthink as a team: 

  1. Increase awareness – Know where groupthink is likely to appear and where our human bias is likely to influence our ideas and decisions
  2. Challenge analysis paralysis – Evaluate all ideas, considering the benefits and risks in a logical structure to bring confidence to the decision making process 
  3. Encourage debate – Introduce strategies such as voting, thinking time and anonymity to make space for new and alternative thoughts and innovation

If you would like to learn more about strategies to minimise groupthink then please get in touch, we would love to hear from you.