Practical Application: Recognizing Groupthink in Work Teams

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Examples of groupthink can be seen in almost every organization. How can you recognize the elements that contribute to groupthink? What can you do to avoid it? This scenario asks you to reflect on those questions.


No one lives in a vacuum. We all have to engage with others. At work, we are often asked to collaborate in teams to solve problems or make decisions. However, some work collaborations can lead to groupthink, or the tendency of a group to make bad decisions because everyone wants to get along instead of challenging group ideas. This can happen because people don't want to rock the boat or because they believe that others in the group know more than they do.

For more on groupthink, take a look at the lesson Groupthink: Definition & Examples. Once you have a handle on the concept of groupthink, reflect on the scenario below.

Scenario: The Team

Joanna is a marketing associate at Tibbett Widgets, Inc. She's been given her first chance to lead a team on a multi-departmental project to bring together sales, marketing, and customer service. Her team needs to come up with a plan for how to educate the public about the superior quality of Tibbett widgets. Besides Joanna, the team consists of the following people:

  • Louie, an older sales associate who prefers that things be done in traditional ways. Louie likes the way that they've always done things at Tibbett Widgets and doesn't really want to change anything. At the same time, Louie is very respectful of authority and doesn't want to speak out against a team leader.
  • Geraldine, who has been a customer service rep for about a decade. She's very in tune with Tibbett's current customers, including how they think and what they want and need. However, because Geraldine never went to college, she is often timid about speaking up around others. She believes that she has less to offer than people who have a college degree.
  • Mirza, another marketing associate. He has a little more experience than Joanna and has led teams before. He recognizes that this initiative is very important to Joanna and is her first chance to really show what she can do. He doesn't want to screw anything up for her, so he's decided he'll just back anything that Joanna comes up with.

Scenario: The Problem

At their first meeting, Joanna lays out her plan for reaching out to the public about Tibbett widgets. She says she thinks that the best way to do that would be to send out flyers in the mail. She also wants to commission a white paper, which is a long, scientific paper about a particular company or product. Finally, she says that they should avoid pushing the new message too hard on social media, instead, stick to the general pithy one-liners about widgets that they have traditionally done.

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