For so many companies, the concept of groupthink is its own 4 letter word. In the day to day vernacular of management and leadership development, groupthink is known to lead to poor decision making at best, and at its worst, has the potential to completely derail the good intentions of leaders who fail to recognize its presence in their corporate culture. But what if there were a way we could put groupthink to work for us?
Benefitness Partners happens to be a Denver-based company, and it’s safe to say that my partner and I have been completely captivated by the craziness around our team’s big win on Sunday. In the process, I couldn’t help thinking about the power behind devotion to a team, a cause, or a goal. This month’s Benefitness Engagement blog gives you 5 tips for how to leverage this naturally-occurring phenomenon to make your teams more effective – in essence, how to build your bandwagon.
Before we go any further, it might be helpful to understand the negative connotation of exactly what we’re dealing with. Psychology Today defines the traditional notion of groupthink this way:
“Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.”
In other words, we tend to lose our heads to fit in. And it’s safe to say that most of us at some time or another have done this. Left unchecked inside your own workplace, it’s easy to see why this could lead to bad outcomes… blindly following, or being afraid to speak up at work is a recipe for disaster, and tends to foster an atmosphere of low engagement and reduced productivity.
So what to do? Build your company’s bandwagon, and create a culture where joining in is encouraged. Here’s how:
Tip #1: Compartmentalize.
As a leader, you have to recognize where you do and do not want groupthink to show up. You also have to be willing to communicate that. How, you ask? Be clear. Lead by example. Don’t be afraid to give voice to the fact that it’s OK to disagree and have differing opinions in the workplace, especially if done professionally. Just as important, however, is the fact that you need to encourage groupthink where you know it can create bonds among your staff that have the power to transcend your daily routines. For example, picture your entire organization supporting an employee affected by cancer at a Relay For Life, or your sales team at the summit of a 14,000 foot peak, and you'll quickly have a feel for where you should and should not encourage groupthink.
Tip #2: Give it an outlet.
Find a cause to rally around. My advice is to go out on a limb and make that cause something that is NOT work-related. Last month’s blog talked extensively about the benefits of being part of something bigger. Finding a goal for your team to pursue together that has nothing to do with your bottom line sends a very clear message to your staff… that you actually care about them as people. As Corporate Fitness Professionals, we love it when a client decides to take on an event like a 5K, a Spartan Race, or a marathon relay, because we know that by having an employer commit to their employees, those employees tend to be much more committed to their employer. Choosing a goal and forming a team to achieve it together is the ultimate arena to let groupthink thrive in. You will find that team members pull each other along, encourage others to join in, and often end up accomplishing more together than the individuals could on their own. Just ask Cam Newton – he got to see first-hand just how powerful Denver’s defense (a well-coached team working together) could be when fighting for a common goal!
Tip #3: Be inclusive.
This one is harder than you might think, but critical if you truly want a bandwagon effect to work for you. We see many organizations who have things like run clubs or softball teams to rally around. But more often than not, they tend to be filled with a relatively small portion of the overall population of a company. As a leader, you have to recognize there can be a bit of an exclusivity factor that may end up doing more harm than good. Once you’ve decided on your goal, make it fun, provide encouragement and rally the troops to get as many people included as possible. The people who tend to seek out and join a run club tend to be those who are already runners. How cool would it be to get those staffers who have never run a mile in their life to join the team and walk their first 5K?
Tip #4: Provide support.
If you actually follow #3 and make inclusion a priority, you will undoubtedly need to take some people by the hand and show them how to participate in whatever it is you’re doing. Creating a culture of engagement in a workplace is definitely a two-way street… if you want your employees to buy into you, you’ve got to be willing to invest in them. Where there has always been talk about ROI for corporate wellness dollars, we prefer to focus on the concept of Value On Investment, or VOI. VOI includes many of the intangible benefits of investing in your team, chief among them the value of having an empowered team. Think back to #1 above – what’s the best way to avoid groupthink where you don’t want it? Empower your employees to think freely, and give them the confidence to speak up. How can you do this? Invest in them as people and provide the support to help them work toward a goal with others… and in the process encourage the kind of groupthink that you want to see.
To illustrate this point, I encourage anybody who has never seen it to go to the finish line for the last hour of an Ironman triathlon. What you’ll see is a collection of beat-up, physically and emotionally drained athletes of all shapes and sizes who are stumbling to the end of what has been almost a 17-hour day of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running a marathon. Needless to say, most of these individuals don’t fit the typical image of a long distance endurance athlete, and yet, something magical happens. By the midnight finish, there tends to be a huge crowd of loud, rowdy, die-hard spectators who congregate to see these last finishers turn themselves inside out. And people you would never expect to see cross an Ironman finish line do exactly that – they get there in part by virtue of the huge support they get from all those who stuck it out with them to see their finish. Tears are the norm, among athletes and spectators alike. There is a bond that helps give life to what would seem to be insurmountable goals, and both athletes and spectators walk away with a sense of empowerment that has ripple effects on everything they touch.
Tip #5: Celebrate your victories.
It’s no surprise that over 1 million Broncos fans turned out yesterday to celebrate Denver’s win… as fans, we felt as if we all had a vested interest in enjoying the victory. Life-long fans or those new to the party, we were all riding the same bandwagon.
Big or small, take the time to celebrate victories as a team. While it may seem obvious, celebrating an accomplishment provides valuable positive reinforcement of the specific behaviors that helped you achieve your goal. And once you celebrate one victory, go right back to the beginning and start the cycle again. Even if you happen to fall a little short, celebrate the successes and go right back to the starting line. Creating a culture of ‘groupthink with a purpose’ takes time, so don’t give up after one or two attempts. Adding to the numbers of those who buy in will eventually deliver the engagement you seek.
The Bottom Line
The lesson for every company: there is always more room on the bandwagon and it’s up to you to encourage employees to want to jump on. And don't worry, if this all sounds great but you don't know how to get the ball rolling, we're here to help. Where do you want to start?
About the author: Corey Dillon is Chief Engagement Officer of Benefitness Partners, a Denver-based company committed to the health and wellness of companies and their employees. With a focus on event-based coaching, Benefitness Partners gets employees moving in a fun, educational, and inclusive manner, helping companies develop a healthier, happier, more engaged workforce.