Cognitive bias series #2: How leaders can avoid encouraging groupthink


In our latest series, we’ve been looking at how cognitive biases can negatively impact organisations. Here, we look at a bias that is often caused (and even encouraged) by leaders themselves: bandwagon bias.

Humans are naturally influenced by others, and bandwagon bias is our tendency to think something is a good idea because others do. Its impact is also greater the more people who agree – there is a really interesting social experiment where a woman walks into a waiting room and stands up every time there is a beeping sound, simply because everyone else does.

In corporate organisations, bandwagon bias is most often caused by a few strong personalities or people in power. While this could be labelled as strong leadership, groupthink or herd mentality ultimately suppresses fresh thinking – which is the thing that great businesses are built on.

So what can leaders do to ensure that they are managing their impact on others and allowing for creativity and innovation to thrive?

Invest in your staff

Increased sales, profitability, job satisfaction, productivity, staff retention…. There are perhaps a 101 reasons why investing in employee training is beneficial for your organisation. Your people are your most important asset, and their personal development is key to your company’s growth. But training does so much more that simply developing your employees skills and knowledge: it also gives them the confidence to speak up as a result of their expertise.

Reward outside-the-box thinking

Many companies have performance-related bonuses or rewards schemes, but such schemes rarely encourage new ideas or innovation. That’s because they are often based around employees meeting an existing set of criteria or performance indicators. Think about how you can reward your team for thinking outside the box – for example, with a monthly or quarterly innovation award that anyone can win and doesn’t have to relate to their job.

Get anonymised feedback

One of the best ways to avoid people influencing each other’s opinions is by using anonymised feedback. This is particularly true in meetings, where the three loudest people in the room – or those who are perceived by others to have the most status – might be in agreement and so everyone follows suit. However, they may have had a different opinion privately. Using real-time meeting software like Wisembly or Solid is a great way to ensure you’re collecting people’s actual opinions, and not the opinions of those who shout the loudest or have the most influence.

There is a fine balance between leading from the front and shepherding your team into whichever direction you want. Being aware of your impact on your team is the first step to making sure that you are not killing creativity and innovation, and are open to putting others’ ideas first.


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