Yes, we may all be created equal, but no, we are definitely not all equals when it comes to the workplace!
Organizations may believe adopting consensus mentality humanizes the workplace, making everyone feel a reasonable level of comfort. Nevertheless, even if there could be some merit in doing so, groupthink in the office is looking for equality in all the wrong places. Building a dream team has nothing to do with equality or agreement, but with competency, collaboration, effectiveness and productivity.
Consensus and its cousin, Groupthink, from a perspective of power use and communication style
Most organizations don’t understand the danger of consensus mentality. Here are some of the behaviors I have observed in consensus-based organizations:
- Disdain for dissenting opinions. This is contemptuous.
- ‘Us versus them’, vertically and horizontally, contributing to stratification and silos. This is stonewalling, in effect not being open to influence.
- Dumbing down those who contribute brilliant and original solutions. This is defensiveness. Defensiveness geared towards a false form of empowerment that ends effectively marginalizing those who are ‘different’, are experienced as a threat by lower performers, or challenge the status quo one way or another.
This brings us to other issues around power:
- No decisions being taken or taking very long to be reached. This is misuse of power by underusing it.
- Continuous search for mutual validation. This points to a lack of personal power.
Right there, power issues, and contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness. Those are three of what John Gottmann calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Behaviours that are so toxic that they have a deadly impact on communication and a team’s effectiveness.
Consensus mentality and Groupthink are very dangerous practices for two reasons
1. They stifle true innovation and adaptability to ever changing business conditions, contributing to possible extinction from the market. Where brilliant minds are silenced, the dialogue between business and market stops. How is it to be stonewalled by the market?
2. They promote unhealthy cultures and disempowered employees, effectively contributing to employee disengagement and loss of talent. Where effective communication and colour are taken away, the dialogue between employer and employee stops. How is it to be stonewalled by today’s ever leaving employee?
Consensus thinking is devastating to all things effective and productive. What if we replace this quest for consensus with a quest for respect and appreciation for the diversity of what each employee brings to the plate?
From Opinion to Intention: The case for alignment and diversity
In successful alignment-fueled organizations, ‘different’ is simply a piece of new information, and ‘difference’ the place where insight lies. This is why truly innovative companies leverage gender, nationality/ethnicity, differences in ability, and different styles of cognition, communication and personalities towards products and services that leave a mark.
If we define consensus as unanimity of opinion, and alignment as unanimity of intention, an organization’s consensus culture can transform into being alignment-fueled by shifting its value focus from opinion to intention.
So, what is alignment?
Alignment can be defined as ‘bringing parts into proper relative position’. When it comes to teams and organizations, it means proper relative position of vision, expectations, roles, and resources.
Successful alignment doesn’t necessarily involve co-workers liking each other or agreeing with each other. A team can align around the need to accomplish a job together, finding a bite of the situation that becomes the common goal or interest.
How about conflict?, I hear you think. A team that is focused on finding alignment sees conflict as a creative act. They don’t argue for someone to win a contest. They contest to get to the essence of all the ideas present in the room. Conflict allows them to achieve a more innovative solution than either team member alone could on his own.
Regardless of formal tag, this is your chance to shine as a facilitator
Conflict only gets out of hand when there is no facilitator in the room. External facilitator? Internal facilitator? Regardless of formal arrangement, if you trust your skill to move team members from positions and personal agendas to a shared intention, you can support and empower your team by:
- Modeling the attitude of deep democracy. This is an attitude of curiosity and openness towards unknown and marginalized experiences.
- Becoming the holding container for the ambiguity, tensions, and visions of all the different team members
- Engaging in a creative process with your team, leading them towards new and fresh innovations
- Using a wide range of tools depending on the needs of your team. Teams with higher EQ and SQ might move positions quicker, other times you will need more time and more powerful tools.
Problems and Solutions: Groupthink Issues, and what you can do instead
- Drowned-Out Voices
Let’s say you are planning an idea generation session for a new initiative and you use traditional Brainstorming. The overly exuberant will most likely drown out those who are more thoughtful and deliberate in their contributions.Use Brainwriting instead. It has 3 major advantages:1. Ideas are recorded the moment they pop up in everyone’s mind, no ideas being lost while waiting for a chance to speak.
2. Ideas are contributed in private, removing the fear of being openly judged by others.
3. Everyone contributes equally, regardless of personality type or personal agenda, so you can truly leverage the diversity of those styles and personalities, while at the same time doing away with office politics.
- The dreadful ‘This is How We have Always Done It’, focusing only on what is known.
Think for instance of blind commitment to best practices disregarding critical information that has not been explored.Instead, appreciate the power of the question rather than the need to rush to answers. Next time you’re in a group meeting, start with, What problem are we here to solve? Keep testing often with, Are we still answering the right question?
- Over Confidence In Own Decisions
Everyone supports a decision, so it must be right, right? It could be, but you don’t want to leave that to chance. One major effect of groupthink is that it leaves a team deceived into thinking the right decision has been made.Instead, keep in mind, if everyone thinks the same, then no one is thinking… Teams and their leaders can avoid this by embracing curiosity, seeking actively for real expression to take place, and spending more time in the question-asking phase, inviting new and fresh information before deciding on a step.
- Employee Disengagement
Toxic communication, stratification and silos in your organization? Talent exodus is at an all time high.Instead, go 360 and break through groupthink. Design a cross-functional, cross-vertical ‘innovation’ team and invite your employees to connect to your organization’s strategic objectives. They will feel heard, a part of the organization’s growth, and most importantly, they will feel appreciated.
Would you like to leverage the power of diversity? The capacity to align is a vital part of it. In fact, the capacity to align is a critical team skill.
Instead of focusing on who is doing what to whom, successful teams focus on answering 4 key questions: What do we have in common? What is the overall objective? Why is it important to align? What would happen if we don’t?
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Sonsoles Alonso – I help CxOs and Founders Build Highly Efficient Happy Teams in 6 Months or Less with the Right Hires, using Systemic Tools and Serious Games.
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