Fighting The Groupthink That Happens When We Work Virtually
Groupthink is more common when all communication is happening digitally. Here’s how to promote thinking creatively instead.
Here’s why virtual communication encourages groupthink, and what teams can do to fight it:
ZOOMS ARE RUSHED AND EXHAUSTING
Many of us feel more rushed during virtual meetings, in part because it’s harder to stay focused from behind our computers. What’s more, a lot of us feel more burnt out by virtual meetings than we would with face-to-face meetings. It can be overwhelming to handle the constant awkwardness of silence or a glitch, the pressure of being scrutinized closely by distant colleagues, and the simple physical exhaustion that comes with staring at a screen all day. All of this breeds the psychological unease that makes speaking up feel burdensome and daunting.
WE ASSUME WE’RE ON THE SAME PAGE WHEN WE’RE NOT
We’ve suddenly lost access to the traditional body language signals that we relied on to assert and distinguish our thinking, and it turns out that digital body language is not always intuitive or universal. For example, I recently hired Jim, as a fully remote worker. I liked our arrangement, in part because of how little oversight he needed. Or so I thought. After three months of Zoom, I told Jim that he was doing a great job and that I hoped he was enjoying it. He responded, “Actually, this isn’t what I thought it’d be.”
A SMALL HANDFUL OF PEOPLE USUALLY DOMINATE A MEETING
Like any in-person meeting, Zoom meetings are often monopolized by whoever speaks first. What’s more, we find it harder to interrupt each other because of the awkwardness of cutting someone off while on Zoom—somehow it feels worse than doing so in person. The result? Stunted creativity, a lack of diversity in opinion, and an increase in discontent as people start to feel ignored or under-appreciated.
With these hard truths about Zoom (or any video meeting technology) in mind, here are a few things we can do to ensure our virtual meetings aren’t a breeding ground for groupthink.
1. Prepare to speak up
As an individual, come to a video meeting prepared with one or two pointed asks or constructive critiques that you can contribute to the meeting. Ask yourself beforehand: Are you saying what you mean, providing necessary detail, and being clear in your ask? Do you describe what the deliverable should look like, the deadlines, and the check-in process? Preparing in advance will make it easier to chime in.
2. Rotate hosts
3. Create a follow-up opportunity for quieter colleagues
For some, raising the little blue Zoom hand or daring to unmute themselves while someone else is speaking can be tough. Whether it be anxiety or discomfort with the technology, there are plenty of reasons you may be missing out on great ideas from some of your colleagues. Ask your team to follow up via email or IM with ideas and comments they didn’t get to bring up during the virtual meeting.
4. Have tools in place for a healthy, representative meeting
Most offices are, of course, still limited in terms of having opportunities for teamwide engagement, but there are ways to encourage more fruitful conversation on video calls. Give quieter team members airtime first, not second, without putting them on the spot. Prompt your virtual team to engage over the phone and on virtual chat tools or email before or after a call for more in depth, one-on-one brainstorming.
When remote team members contribute to a brainstorm on chat or a virtual whiteboard, give them the opportunity to flesh out their good ideas with the rest of the team. And for team-wide decision making, use polling to ensure you’re considering the full scope of opinions.