"Where might we be wrong?"If a team wants to avoid groupthink reaching agreement without sufficiently investigating whether the course they're settling on is the wisest available the simple step of asking, "Where might we be wrong?" can stimulate the necessary discussion. So advises Richard Larrick, a professor at Duke's Fuqua School of Business.
As reported by Alix Stuart in the November issue of CFO magazine, an experiment Larrick ran with PhD candidate Al Mannes indicated that arriving quickly at consensus on a decision tends to mean that the decision is suboptimal.
In this regard, Larrick's colleague John W. Payne advises that
group processes have to be actively and repeatedly managed. You've got to make sure that people with unique information share it, or else you're likely to focus only on what is held in common.Payne cites assembling diverse perspectives as a prerequisite.
Other prerequisites noted by Paul Paulus, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington mentioned in a previous post, are using a process that allows everyone to speak without fear of being looked down on for mistakes, encourages people to play devil's advocate (perhaps even assigning someone to play that role), and requires that the group leader be steadfastly impartial.
When the group's task is to generate creative ideas, as opposed to reaching a decision on an issue or problem, Paulus advises combining individual and group work in order to maximize productivity. In other words, have people bring ideas to a brainstorming meeting rather than waiting until they arrive to start cogitating. Then, alternate group discussion and individual thinking.
The leader should not only ensure that people can speak freely, without facing squelching criticism of their ideas, but also encourage the group to keep thinking even after they claim they've run out of steam. The thinking should even extend beyond adjournment. A follow-up meeting can be scheduled if members do indeed come up with further ideas.
Note that Paulus has found it quite feasible to train people to work in highly productive fashion in groups charged with generating creative ideas. You can read more about Paulus' cognitive model of group brainstorming here.