What Makes a Good Team? Part Five: Individuality

Individuality

There is no perfect team. But there is a recipe for success – many similar characteristics shared by effective teams, independent of industry or function. Throughout this blog series, we will take a closer look at each of these characteristics, explore why each is important, and provide you with ways to instill and improve each characteristic within your own team.

Part Five: Many Opinions, One Goal

Individuality

noun

in·di·vid·u·al·i·ty  \-ˌvi-jə-ˈwa-lə-tē\

  1. the quality that makes one person or thing different from all others
  2. a person or thing of individual or distinctive character.
  3. state or quality of being individual; existence as a distinct individual.

While it may seem contradictory, especially since we recently talked about the importance of selflessness, another important aspect of any good team is individuality. You see, one can be both selfless – working as part of a team towards the common goal – and an individual. Take a soccer team, for example. Each member is unique, and was brought onboard for a specific reason. It would be pretty disastrous if every member of the team was exactly alike. After all, it’s tough to win a game with 11 goalkeepers, 11 defenders, or 11 strikers. You need a diverse group – strikers, midfielders, forwards, and, of course, a goalkeeper. Many individuals working together for a common goal.

The same is true in the business world, with one major difference. While it is true that different employees have different skillsets within a team, there is another form of individuality that is also critical to any successful team – individuality of thought.

Avoiding Groupthink is a Must

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

― Bernard M. Baruch

According to Psychology Today, “Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.” The term was first coined by social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972 while researching the chain of events involved in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, where the United States attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro’s Cuban government.

Groups affected by groupthink tend to become stagnant – failing to grow and evolve. If it wasn’t for freethinkers, we may have never experienced some of the world’s most important scientific breakthroughs. For example, it was once commonplace to believe that the Earth was flat until individuals, like Aristotle, dared to defy popular opinion.  If the Wright brothers didn’t think outside the box, would we now be able to fly from Baltimore to Los Angeles in less than six hours?

“Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures.”

- Irving Janis

As a team leader, it is important to encourage individuality just as much as you encourage teamwork and unity. Be on the lookout for Janis’ eight symptoms of groupthink:

  • Illusion of Invulnerability: This false sense of invulnerability encourages unnecessary risks.
  • Collective Rationalization: Group members fail to reconsider their initial assumptions and, thus, discount warning signs.
  • Belief in Inherent Morality: Group members believe in the rightness of their cause, ignoring the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  • Stereotyped Views of Out-Groups: Group members view outside groups who do not share similar views as the “enemy.”
  • Direct Pressure on Dissenters: Group members feel pressured to follow popular opinion.
  • Self-Censorship: Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  • Illusion of Unanimity: Majority opinions are assumed to be unanimous.
  • Self-Appointed “Mindguards”: Members shield the group from outside conflicting or contradictory opinions, views, or decisions.

Fixing Groupthink

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fortunately, there are several ways to correct groupthink and encourage individuality. These include:

  1. Leaders should avoid stating their own preferences and expectations at the outset. Open a group discussion and talk through group goals.
  2. Share outside articles, quotes, and opinions of experts who challenge the views and opinions of group members.
  3. Leaders should strive to create a culture that encourages open communication and the sharing of opinions, even if they are contradictory to the majority. Group members should feel safe sharing their opinions.
  4. Practice makes perfect. Yes, you can practice open communication and individuality of thought. This is where Terrapin Adventures can help!

Our team building programs are customized to meet the individual needs of every organization we work with, challenging groups to break down communication barriers and work together to solve certain problems as a team. Each activity will tasks group members to stop, think, brainstorm solutions to complex puzzles, and express their individual opinions/solutions.

After the exercise, your group will sit down with their facilitator to discuss the lessons behind what they just did. This discussion is designed to reinforce these lessons and help ensure that the progress made during your team building outing sticks.

Schedule Your Corporate Team Building Session!

Conveniently located between Baltimore and Washington DC, Terrapin Adventures is able to create a customized program (onsite or offsite, indoor or outdoor) to help better your business. Our programs provide for exciting activities that bridge the gaps in communication, improve collaboration, and expand your group’s problem solving skills.

If you have any questions, please call Terrapin Adventure at 301.725.1313, or email us at info@terrapinadventures.com to learn more.

Works Cited:

  1. Dattner, Ben. “Preventing “Groupthink”” Psychology Today (2011): n. pag. Web.
  2. “What Is Groupthink?” Psychologists for Social Responsibility. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

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