Set the Herd Free

In The News

We herd. Cattle, geese, bees, birds, fish, wolves, and people.

We herd, flock, swarm, migrate, school, pack, gather, and crowd.

All of this herding breeds groupthink.

People tend to follow the behaviors, actions, and beliefs of those in their herd to avoid the herd's rejection.

Here's how it works. The herd starts circling around the same idea until it is unanimously embraced. And in the face of the growing consensus, people edit themselves, stifling their fresh perspectives, insights, a nd ideas for fear of ridicule or rejection.

And then we are left with a group of people who think alike.

Groupthink infects meetings.

Everyone coming to your meeting has unique expertise and knowledge that could benefit the group's decision - making process. But, as research shows, herds are terrible at pooling their information. Here's why. Meetings are dominated by (1) information that people already know and (2) information that confirms the consensus. As a result, people dilute their contributions an d lean nothing new. And we wonder why people hate meetings!

As leaders, we have the power to set the herd free.

How? By intentionally blocking groupthink. Here are 5 practical actions we can take immediately:

  1. Ask for Ideas in Advance.
    Before gathering the herd in a meeting, have people submit three ideas or new pieces of information to help the group make a decision on a particular issue. This will thwart the addiction to pre - existing and consensus - driven information.
  2. Brainwrite
    With brainwriting, you submit a question or an issue to your group and everyone writes their ideas on paper. Like brainstorming but without the influence of the loudest group members.
  3. Assign a Devil's Advocate
    Designate one person in each meeting to introduce opposing ideas, views, and perspectives. By assigning this role, you allow that person to contribute alternative viewpoints and positively dissent without the fear of the herd.
  4. Talk Last
    When leaders go first, people follow. And when people follow, they mute their own ideas for fear of not only the herd but of you. By talking last, you set the herd free to generate solutions independent of your influence.
  5. Engage with Smaller Focused Groups
    Literally break up the herd. Invite people based only on the expertise, knowledge, and perspectives they can contribute to the issue at hand.

It's easy to manage a herd, but you'll be a lot more effective if you focus on leading the people in the herd.

- Ann Tardy

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