Why Workplace Diversity Diminishes Groupthink And How Millennials Are Helping

 

When you think about team dynamics and workplace productivity, it’s easy to get trapped in the idea that alignment in thinking is the best path forward; after all, the mindset unity offered by consistent corporate culture is shown to have a positive effect on productivity. But there’s a dark side to the “unified” mentality, and it’s probably infected your own boardroom, at least to some degree.

 

It’s called groupthink, but thankfully, a recent surge in workplace diversity (thanks in part to millennial leaders) is starting to abate its progression.

 

What Is Groupthink?

 

Groupthink, to some degree, is exactly what it sounds like; it’s the tendency for members in a given group to gradually drift toward the same beliefs and styles of thinking. But according to Psychologists for Social Responsibility, it involves much more than that, manifesting as the following symptoms:

 

  • The illusion of invulnerability.
  • Collective rationalization, where members of the group don’t second-guess their assumptions.
  • Belief in inherent morality.
  • Stereotyped views of out-groups, which could include important groups like customers.
  • Direct pressure on dissenters, forcing conformity, especially in lower ranks.
  • Self-censorship, preventing dissenting opinions from being expressed.
  • The illusion of unanimity.
  • Self-appointed “mindguards,” who protect the group from contradictory information.

 

On paper, none of this sounds good for an organization. Groupthink leads to less rational courses of action and a narrower range of options and opinions—yet self-righteousness and delusions of certainty at the same time. Yet despite the apparent destructiveness of this mentality, it still ends up creeping into almost any group; it’s a fundamental part of human nature.

 

How Diversity Helps

 

Modern professionals aren’t blind to this persistent bias, and they even know the best way to address the problem. According to a recent study of more than 230 senior board members, high-ranking executives believe the most important way to alleviate groupthink (from a selection of six independent factors) is to introduce diversity of thought.

 

“Diversity of thought” is a bit vague, but let’s break down what diverse perspectives can do to break up the potential for groupthink:

 

In sufficient numbers, dissent is encouraged and unanimity disappears. If only one person in a crowd feels they have a different opinion, they’ll censor themselves, but all it takes is one other voice of dissent for them to speak their mind. With a diverse enough group of people, dissent will be more common, destroying the structures that feed the illusion of unanimity (and thus, limits to true rationality).

 

Out-groups are no longer stereotyped. A single representative from an “out-group” should be enough to dismantle most stereotypes held against that group.

 

Mindguards are less effective. The very fact that more groups are included in the boardroom lowers the mindguard’s defenses, making it easier for dissenting or nonconforming opinions to emerge within the group.

 

According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, we’re on our way to achieving minority representation in the workplace of 37 percent by 2020, and many businesses are independently increasing investments in their diversity and inclusion programs—in part because they recognize the importance of diversity in this application.

 

How Millennials Are Helping

 

So how are millennials driving more diversity and less groupthink in the workplace? There are two key ways.

 

First, millennials are more individualistic than previous generations. While this sometimes draws criticisms from older generations who describe them as attention-seeking or even narcissistic, being strongly opinionated and true to oneself are important qualities when fighting against the quiet temptation of unanimity in a group. Millennials are sparking a trend of more outspokenness, and more dissent in the workplace.

 

Second, millennials are changing the definitions of diversity and inclusion. While non-millennials tend to focus on things like demographics and equal representation, millennials tend to focus on things like individual identities, ideas, thoughts, and opinions. This makes them more likely to seek diversity, specifically, to improve conversations within an organization and come up with better, more inventive solutions for common business problems.

 

Groupthink is a natural human bias that can infect any organization—unless there’s enough diversity within the group to counterbalance its effects. Encouraging dissent and disagreement may seem counterproductive, but evidence suggests it’s the only way to get closer to the truth—and better decisions overall.

 

By: Anna Johansson

Source: forbes.com