As a leader, you already know what groupthink looks like – a collection of heads nodding in unison at the Latest Great Idea you’ve just had.
It’s flattering, but fatal.
Next time this happens, consider why people are reacting like that. Are they impressed with your unrivalled brilliance, or do they simply feel obliged to please?
More often than not, it’s the latter.
Unfortunately, a team infected by the Groupthink disease has severely compromised its problem-solving abilities. That’s because before, they were restricted to a single, narrow way of looking at the world.
Now, they’re free to create, explore, and bounce ideas off each other.
This process of unlocking individual perspectives is called divergent thinking.
Coined by JP Guildford, divergent thinking refers to the frenetic burst of ideas generated when people are encouraged to speak their mind. Think of it as the results of the perfect brainstorming session.
A word of caution.
Opening the floodgates to every single perspective is a risky move if it isn’t done properly. If your entire team is now spiralling off in multiple directions, occasionally clonking heads in the process, chaos will prevent them from achieving much at all.
So, after you’ve done away with Groupthink by making sure each member of your team feels empowered to speak out, what do you do with all this creative energy?
If you haven’t planned for this moment, you’re just left with a haphazard collection of perspectives.
Getting rid of Groupthink, then, doesn’t stop at divergent thinking. A second step is needed – sweeping up all these ideas into a neat pile, sifting through them, and choosing the best.
This process of selection is called convergent thinking – and it’s the other side of Guildford’s equation.
Both are essential when managing a post-groupthink environment.
According to Guildford, divergent thinking involves ‘producing a diverse assortment of appropriate responses to an open-ended question or task’, whereas convergent thinking involves ‘finding only the single correct answer, conventional to a well-defined problem’.[i]
A diverse, free-minded team is essential for achieving this first goal. To put forward their sincere responses, people must feel comfortable disagreeing and offering suggestions freely – without the fear of being ‘shot down’.
Freeing up this space of personal expression is an essential part of making sure each person gives everything they can to the team.
It may sound contradictory, but a diverse team is also a crucial asset to convergent thinking, where ideas are assessed, compared, evaluated, and eventually chosen or junked.
True, having multiple inputs makes the convergence process far bumpier than it would be if a single person simply took charge, chose their favourite ideas, and chucked everything else in the bin.
That’s not really convergent thinking, though, because this top-down approach silences potentially good ideas. An assured leader will be adept at understanding people’s viewpoints during the convergence phase, not just in the divergence phase.
What the leader is channelling here is the elusive ‘human factor’ that supplies the entire company with inspiration – in both divergent and convergent phases.
Now, that doesn’t mean that every single decision will please every team member. Far from it. Personal disagreements and differences are often simmering away, even at the final stages.
And that’s OK.
At Thinka, we believe this messiness should be welcomed … as long as it’s properly understood.
That’s because we see negotiations between people as imperfect, open and ongoing – not neat, closed, and finite. A workplace culture that values and respects the human element of work will always find room to express a diversity of viewpoints … then weave these into something better.
So, if you want each team member to feel valued, respected, and creative, be prepared to embrace the messy reality of human difference. It may make life more complex, but the rewards are rich indeed.