It’s much more fun – not to mention a heck of a lot less stressful – to get along with your colleagues at work. It’s even better when you’re friends with co-workers, because who doesn’t want to work with friends, right?
Well, according to a recent study, your company’s bottom line may not like these workplace friendships. Specifically, a study by Ryerson University published in the European Management Journal finds that despite past beliefs that “group cohesion” can only help a team’s performance, it can have a downside: groupthink.
If you’re not familiar with the term, groupthink is a term coined by research psychologist Irving Janis, and is often tied to poor decisions that arise out of teams or groups. The idea is that when ideas aren’t challenged – just simply embraced without debate – then it leads to a less-desirable outcome.
Sean Wise, professor of entrepreneurship at Ryerson, conducted a study that analyzed email communications for 187 teams from one company. Using digital data collection and social network analysis software, Wise found that while social connections boosted a team’s performance at first, too much cohesion eventually led to a diminished performance.
Being so friendly, he found, eventually hurt the team’s performance.
Ben Dattner, an industrial and organizational psychologist and adjunct professor at New York University, says that leaders may find groupthink leads to decisions that can have disastrous outcomes.
For example, President Kennedy’s subordinates used groupthink to jump to the conclusion that the U.S. should invade Cuba in 1961, because they knew it was what he wanted. After the invasion failed, Kennedy tasked his younger brother, Robert, to vigorously vet any decisions that were being considered by the Executive Committee of the National Security Council.
How can organizations and leaders ensure that teams get along – but don’t lapse into groupthink? Here are some tips from experts:
- Plan for it. Art Petty, founder and principal of the Art Petty Group, says any risk plan should include a way to monitor and reduce emerging groupthink. It doesn’t mean you think the group will fail – but that it’s preferable to tackle the problem head on rather than ignore it.
- Encourage debate. As Dattner mentions, Kennedy learned that getting his own way with no debate might feel good for a short time – but the end result can be terrible. Leaders need to speak up and let team members know why it’s so important that ideas and opinions be challenged. “Within businesses and governments, happy talk is common, but it can be countered with some version of, ‘Now tell me (read more here)
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