Alignment Versus Group Think – Avoid the False Harmony Trap

In a recent engagement with a client, we were reminded of the sometimes-confusing point of alignment versus group think. To be clear, alignment is critical to team performance, and group think will sooner or later lead to the demise of the team.

The challenge is that when you are deeply engaged with the team, it may be difficult to tell the difference. If things are moving quickly, the surface level harmony brought on by group think may feel like everyone is in alignment even when individual members are still harbouring different personal opinions.

Conditions that lead to group think include:

• Strong or respected leader that provides their opinion or solution
• Quick decisions
• Little process for decision making
• Unequal input from team members
• Discussion and arguments favour the majority
• Underlying peer pressure to keep group harmony
• Discussions after the meeting – agreement breaks down outside the group
• Teams creating an us versus them attitude to those not on the team

The impacts of group think are:

• Inferior decision making and team performance due to lack of critical thinking and analysis
• Creates silos within the group
• Lower levels of trust among team members
• Meetings are not stimulating, and team members don’t grow their skills or knowledge

Here are a few things you can do to overcome group thinking:

• Instill processes for analysis and decision making which require information gathering and analysis to happen before the decision is made
• Take the time to critically analyze assumptions
• Create a psychologically safe environment
• Take input from all team members
• Be curious
• Hash it out through constructive conflict – issue based, not personal
• Appoint a Devil’s Advocate to present strong contrarian views
• The leader should reserve their thoughts until the end of the process

If you want a high performing team, then be explicit and tell your team members what you expect from them. If they feel pressure to go along to get along, they need to speak up. A team is only more valuable than one person if the varied experiences, knowledge, and viewpoints of all members are appreciated and listened to.

Psychology Today – Why Group Think Happens
Betterup – What is Team Alignment?
Khan Academy – Conformity and Group Think