Three approaches to tackle groupthink in the workplace

At work, making decisions together can be super helpful. But, it’s important that everyone thinks carefully about things and doesn’t just agree with the group. 

When we need to make a big decision, we often get a bunch of people together to figure it out. Makes sense, right? More brains mean better decisions, usually. 

Studies have shown that groups often make better decisions than individuals. But for this to work, everyone needs to feel comfy sharing their thoughts, even if they’re different from what others are saying. 

Sometimes, though, groups end up all thinking the same way and not questioning anything. This can lead to bad decisions, a bit like following the crowd blindly. This is called ‘groupthink’. 

Jennifer Overbeck, who’s an expert in social psychology, says that when everyone in a group starts agreeing too much and not speaking up when they disagree, it’s easy to go in the wrong direction. 

This ‘groupthink’ approach was first talked about by a psychologist Irving Janis in the 1970s. He noticed it can mess up how groups make decisions. Some signs of groupthink include feeling invincible as a group, thinking the group is always right, and seeing people who aren’t in the group as different. 

Decisions made with groupthink often ignore other ways things could go and don’t think about the risks. Janis pointed to some big decisions in history, like the Vietnam War and the Bay of Pigs invasion, that might’ve been influenced by groupthink. 

Today, things like online ‘cancel culture’ could also be linked to groupthink. 

At work, groupthink can sneak into decisions when people feel pressured to agree with what others think, even if they’re not sure. Or, if a group doesn’t want to admit they made a mistake, even when it’s obvious they did. 

What the research suggest is that groupthink is more likely when there’s a big power difference in the group, and people are scared to disagree with the boss. 

The important part to understand is that it’s not just about decisions. Groupthink can also affect things like what’s considered appropriate behavior or how people are treated. 

For example, if someone’s seen as a superstar worker, people might ignore any bad behaviour they do because they’re so focused on their good bits. 

To stop groupthink from happening, we suggest a few things leaders can do: 

  • Make sure everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts. This takes a lot of work to build a culture where all ideas and sharing is valued. The first step is to identify how your team currently feel about sharing their thoughts and opinions, even when they are different to what others are thinking.  
  • Get a mix of people together when making decisions, so that there are lots of different ideas. Diversity in life/work experience, culture, gender, education, skills, personality profile (and many other items) will really impact on how people think, what questions they ask and the approach they bring to decision making. This can help to really bring a well thought out and considered approach.  
  • Have someone play ‘devil’s advocate’ to challenge ideas and ask questions about what could go wrong. You can develop some standard probing questions to support the team in thinking more broadly.  


When people feel connected to each other and take the time to listen and think about what others are saying, group decisions can be way more effective and impactful. 


Consider groupthink in your business.