Why Good Teams Must Avoid Groupthink


An effective team has certain characteristics that allow the team members to function more efficiently and productively. They develop ways to share leadership roles and accountability for their work products. In addition, effective teams must avoid the trap of “groupthink.” This naturally occurring process destroys creative thinking and allows for a high level of inefficiency. According to the Cambridge English Business Dictionary, groupthink is the process in which a group makes bad decisions because its team members do not want to express opinions, suggest new ideas, etc. that others may disagree with.

In the field of emergency management, the need for a functioning team is vital since we are often dealing with life and death situations. This is no time to make an ill-informed decision. One of the problems that we often encounter is that the occurrence of major events are low, and we do not have experienced team members available. We might go years between major events, and many of the members of our team may not have been in these situations before. These team members are more likely to defer to the more experienced members, and therefore are more likely to make the right decisions.

So, if we know that our incident team may be susceptible to groupthink, what can we do to ensure that it does not happen, or at least lessen its impact?

  • Form a standing team of individuals from your area. Last minute team building is rarely effective.

  • Training, Training, Training. A robust training schedule can assist in filling knowledge gaps, and giving the team confidence.

  • While we may not experience major events annually, we can practice our work through emergency drills and exercises. Taking part in exercises can help increase the confidence of the team and they will have experience to fall back on to challenge group solutions and decisions.

  • Our field is full of “Type A” personalities. A healthy dose of humility does wonders for success. We tend to pressure members who express doubts on any course of action that does not align with ours. Use creative problem-solving techniques e.g. brainstorming which can lead to independent thinking and ideas rather than following the consensus of the group.

  • You can build on minor event experience. Untested members practice self-censorship and keep quiet about their thoughts.

  • Use outside experts to help teach and train. Seeing how others operate can give you an alternative approach.

Groupthink is a success killer and can derail the best teams. A proactive approach to avoiding this can go a long way in making your community better prepared and ultimately safer.

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