Groupthink Can Help Us… And Hold Us Back
The debate rages down both sides of the aisle. No, not the political aisle; the one in-between your work stations on the job. One of the big questions these days is: do people work better as part of a group, or when they forge ahead finishing a task on their own?
A whole suite of apps and other software revolves around the idea that more collaboration is better. Take Slack and Workgroup, for instance, tools which facilitate internal and external communication, respectively, at the workplace. They are both quite inventive and handy platforms, but they rely on the assumption that at least some amount of group work is helpful for a business’ success.
And research does support group work, to some degree at least. Working with members of a team can help to keep us motivated to see a task through to the end. We’re biologically wired to seek group inclusion and be worried about what other people think about us. Even better than motivation is the proof that learning through group discussion promotes stronger memory of information than the same learning done through listening to a lecture, for instance.
But it’s not all roses. Groups can also lead to each individual putting in less effort, since there can be a sense that someone else is “handling it.” Additionally, there’s a risk of group error, where if enough people think an incorrect fact is true it can lead others with the right answer to actually change their minds.
On the last point, employees may also be overly-eager to support management’s ideas or suggestions that promote a company’s brand over useful criticisms. As one consultant points out, this kind of groupthink is necessary in many ways. To create an aspirational and supportive work culture, there should be some amount of allegiance to the company. But an outside review might be necessary once a team has done its work to double check that the project is on the right track.