By Robert Nelson, CAE, Founder and President of Nelson Strategic Consulting (NSC). This article was originally published on the NSC Blog.
Groupthink is a phenomenon that acts as a barrier to good governance. It is a form of self censorship that causes a failure of critical thinking when the desire for group consensus overrides one's ability or desire to critique / challenge a position, present alternatives or express an unpopular opinion. It is often in play when groups reach consensus without critically examining an issue; there is an illusion of agreement or consensus: “It appears as everyone agrees, so let’s move on.”
It occurs when there is a high level of group cohesion or a strong persuasive leader who articulates his or her opinion, especially when the opinion is expressed early in the discussion. It also occurs when groups are isolated from contrary opinions.
Board meetings are perfect breeding grounds for groupthink. After all, healthy boards experience a sense of team and cohesion, and they are often comprised of strong leaders. Paradoxically, this sense of cohesion can cause boards to fail in their fiduciary duty, if they consciously or subconsciously engage in groupthink.
Creating a culture where disagreement and diverse opinions are valued limits the incidence of groupthink. Likewise, encouraging an atmosphere of open inquiry and fostering an open climate of dialogue are important protections. However, there are many more techniques that can be used to protect against groupthink.
Robert Nelson, a Certified Association Executive (CAE) and principal of Nelson Strategic Consulting, brings over a quarter-century of successful executive leadership experience, working with Boards and high-powered CEOs in a not-for-profit setting. He is adept at designing governance structures and an engaging Board development trainer. Nelson brings hands-on experience guiding and facilitating the development of solutions to complex organizational challenges and global grand challenges for national as well as international organizations. As a former association chief executive officer for almost two decades, Nelson understands the importance of developing practical, strategic solutions that work within the culture of an organization and are aligned with the organization’s capacity potential.
The National Rural Health Resource Center (The Center) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining and improving health care in rural communities. Rural Health Innovations, LLC is a subsidiary of the National Rural Health Resource Center.