Corporate Governance

The problem of Groupthink

B2B Editor19 October 2015

The problem of Groupthink

How many times have you seen meetings of committees, boards or internal work groups fail because they fall into line with others rather than really exploring the opportunities that could exist.

Groupthink often occurs because the individuals value unaminity and cohesiveness more than the potential group disharmony from fully exploring a wider range of options.

There have been many articles that have explored this, but one from Harvard Business Review in December 2014 got to some solutions that could assist boards or any group to overcome this issue.

The authors noted that one very practical way is for the chair ( or group leaders) to “encourage others to express their own views by refusing to take a firm position at the outset, and by indicating a willingness and desire to hear uniquely held information.

Further, the authors suggest that “encouraging authentic dissent or, potentially, appointing a “devils advocate” to construct a case against a proposal.

The real value of boards or work groups is the diversity of opinion that comes from the individuals within the group. It can be argued that the group does need to work as a team, but if the team does not have some dissenting views, then it can fall into mediocrity.

The role of the chair or leaders of these groups is absolutely critical. They need to be able to “sense” when groupthink is starting to become an issue, while also managing that the individuals of the group who may have stronger views or a more forceful style don’t dominate the group into becoming unworkable. This takes considerable skill and much experience.

Another important way of overcoming groupthink at both board and internal work groups is to ensure real diversity in such groups. This diversity will include gender, but also should represent a range of professional experience, age and if possible, cultural diversity.

While such diversity cannot guarantee the absence of groupthink (and can lead to other challenges), if well managed can achieve high performing groups making excellent decisions.


Phil Butler is Manager – NFP, Public Sector & ACT
at the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Level 3 54 Marcus Clarke Street Canberra
T: 02 6132 3200