The dominance of group effects varies depending on the specific context and circumstances. However, negative group effects, like groupthink and polarization, tend to become more pronounced when complexity and uncertainty are elevated. This article provides three reasons why group effects dominate and a handful of strategies and techniques to minimize them.
Three Reasons Group Effects Dominate
Synergy is usually considered the positive outcome of team dynamics. Group effects are considered the sources of negative outcomes. These are three primary sources of negative outcomes when working in groups.
1. Information Sharing
Combining different perspectives often leads to a broader range of ideas. Some of the perspectives are more extreme than what participants individuals hold. Most participants are more comfortable when information and alternatives are in the “normal” range of their experience.
2. Social Comparison
Group members tend to compare their opinions and beliefs to those of others. Members often seek a sense of confidence and validation in their own views by adjusting their views to align more closely with the group's position.
3. Normative Influence
Participants often feel pressure to conform to the shared group perspective to maintain social cohesion and avoid conflict or rejection.
Strategies and Techniques
You can use the following strategies and techniques to identify and mitigate group effects as a facilitator.
1. Foster Psychological Safety
Create an environment where team members feel safe to express their thoughts, opinions, and concerns without fear of judgment or retribution. This encourages open communication and minimizes the impact of groupthink and conformity.
Polling is a straightforward way to make sure everyone can anonymously express their opinion. Open conversation is generated when the polls are shown live to the group.
2. Encourage Diverse Perspectives
Actively seek out and incorporate diverse viewpoints within the team. Diverse viewpoints can be achieved by inviting external experts, encouraging feedback from different departments or disciplines, or promoting cross-functional collaboration. Diverse perspectives help mitigate the risk of group polarization and promote more well-rounded collaboration.
Group breakouts are essential. To be most effective, develop breakout questions in advance and use different combinations of team members in different sessions.
3. Use Structured Decision-Making Frameworks
Implement structured frameworks that encourage systematic evaluation of options. This h mitigates decision-making “paralysis by analysis.” Structures frameworks ensure that decisions are made based on thoroughly considering available information.
Establish the process in the group’s bylaws or operating guidelines. I prefer a three-step process – one meeting to share information, one meeting to review the draft proposal, and one meeting to take a consensus vote.
4. Facilitate Constructive Conflict Resolution
Conflict is inevitable in complex and uncertain environments. However, a facilitator should guide the team in constructively resolving conflicts. This process involves establishing norms for respectful disagreement, encouraging active listening, and promoting a problem-solving approach rather than personal attacks or power struggles.
There is a facilitator in every group. Find the person (or people) in the group that has the most facilitation experience. Quietly engage that person in advance to help you intercede when conflicts arise.
5. Monitor Communication Patterns
Observe the team's communication patterns and dynamics. Look for signs of information silos, exclusion of certain team members, or dominant voices overpowering others.
As the facilitator, I call 10 to 15% of participants between sessions. The feedback is invaluable. And it keeps a strong rapport between you and each participant.
6. Regularly Assess Team Progress and Outcomes
Continuously evaluate the team's progress and outcomes to identify potential biases or groupthink. Encourage reflection and self-assessment within the team to ensure that decisions are made objectively and based on the best available evidence.
I typically go around the room at the end of each session and get a plus (something you like) and a delta (something you would like to change) from each participant.
Facilitating with FINESSE
These strategies and techniques help you identify and mitigate group effects in complex and uncertain team environments. The results are better collaboration, improved relationships between participants, and better solutions that are created, understood, and accepted by all. Synergy requires overcoming the group effects that can dominate team dynamics.
The second S in FINESSE stands for synergy.
Founded by JD Solomon, Communicating with FINESSE is a not-for-profit community of technical professionals dedicated to being highly effective communicators and facilitators. The community’s 750 Club shares special tips and pointers associated with each bone in the FINESSE fishbone (cause and effect) diagram. Learn more about our publications, webinars, and workshops. Join the community for free.