Avoiding Group Blink

women rowing crew

As we act faster than ever just to stay on top of everything these days, it’s so important to remember that silence does not necessarily mean alignment.

You may have personally experienced this: Your team leader shares a vision, and you are secretly uncomfortable with it or have different ideas. Yet despite your internal gut churning, you say nothing. And your colleague says nothing. And, when no one speaks up, the silence is mistaken for alignment.

Keeping your mouth shut might seem easier and more expedient – today’s fast-paced business requires swift action. However, when a whole team does this, the result is frighteningly powerful and detrimental to success. You’ve probably heard the term groupthink (Meriam-Webster: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics) – well, I like to call this “group blink” because in the blink of an eye, a team leader moves the vision forward but without the team being truly aligned.

The underlying assumption that there’s little (or no) time for disagreement is flawed. Working through divergent perspectives increases a team’s success. Constructive conflict in a team is proven to produce stronger team commitment, accountability, and results.

When a team leader allows time upfront for healthy debate, the team saves time. Why? Because later—if things go sideways—it takes more time to align and re-adjust. Or maybe it becomes too late to align, potentially requiring re-work; examples might be a faulty product release or damage control because a client is upset. The reasons vary in quantity and intensity. The key is that hearing every voice and arriving at a vision that everyone can get behind, dramatically increases the chances of successful execution. 

Alignment also requires energy and intestinal fortitude. It takes a mature, patient team leader to create and reinforce an environment of trust and safety. Team members must feel safe to challenge, knowing they won’t be ostracized or excluded (now or later).

Knowing where you want to go with your vision is just the beginning. Allowing constructive conflict through healthy debate will uncover the good and the bad, and lead to a united effort to create something lasting.

This Week’s Challenge: Consider where in your life you may not be allowing enough room for divergent viewpoints from your own. Notice where others appear to be “going along to get along” but are not onboard. Make a commitment to be sincerely curious about alternative views. Or perhaps you’re the one whose gut—or inside voice—wants to speak up but doesn’t. Treat this ‘nagging’ like a figurative muscle that you need to consciously work-out to overcome “muscle memory” where you may be defaulting to keeping harmony. And just like working physical muscles, it might hurt a little at first to request space for debate. Over time, you’ll feel stronger and more grounded to share your voice. Your actions, in either case, could inspire others to do the same.

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  1. Doug Brady on July 27, 2022 at 6:36 pm

    Thoughtful and spot on Jen.

    Enjoy your vacation.

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