Blog On, Good Buddy.
Creating Team Harmony:
The Right Way (Synchrony) and the Common Way (Groupthink)
Picture this: You’re leading a team, working on a crucial project with tight deadlines and high stakes. As discussions unfold, you notice a pattern emerging; at first, you think it’s team harmony and just everybody getting along. This is usually the goal, right? But as you keep watch, you notice that it isn’t harmony – it’s conformity. There seems to be a reluctance among team members to voice dissenting opinions or challenge the prevailing ideas. It seems like everyone is going along with the flow, seeking harmony at all costs. But here’s the thing; though it might sound good, you definitely don’t want harmony that suppresses dissent. Let me explain why.
In today’s organisational landscape, achieving team harmony is often seen as the ultimate goal. The belief is that when everyone agrees and works in perfect unison, productivity and efficiency will soar. However, there are two distinct paths to team harmony: one that promotes genuine collaboration and innovation and success, and another that stifles creativity and critical thinking. These paths are known as “team synchrony” and “groupthink,” respectively. In most organisations, although most of the time we’re not aware , leaders tend to promote is groupthink rather than encourage collective intelligence. And, while this is bad for long term team and business performance, it’s also one of the biggest wastes of talent you could possible do.
Understanding the difference between Groupthink and Team Synchrony is vital in unlocking the true potential of teams in organisational settings. To understand it, we need to go beyond merely working together harmoniously; we need to delve into the very fabric of team dynamics and decision-making processes. By exploring the concepts of team synchrony and groupthink through the lenses of neuroscience and organisational behavior, we can uncover the secrets to fostering effective collaboration, unleashing innovation, and driving overall team performance with a hugely engaged team that are doing their best work.
So, let’s take a look at the two distinct approaches—team synchrony and groupthink—and their impact on teams in today’s organisational landscape. By gaining insight into these approaches, we can equip ourselves with the knowledge and tools to create teams that thrive, challenge the status quo, and achieve remarkable results.
The Common Way – Groupthink
Ah, groupthink—the all too familiar phenomenon that creeps into team dynamics, hindering innovation and stifling critical thinking. But what exactly is groupthink, and how does it manifest in teams?
On the surface, groupthink looks great for a leader as it promises harmony, cohesion, and a sense of unity within a team. The idea of everyone agreeing and avoiding conflicts may seem appealing, as it creates a perception of efficiency and smooth operations. However, by prioritising consensus over critical evaluation, teams trapped in groupthink become vulnerable to flawed decision-making processes and missed opportunities for growth and improvement. In contrast, fostering a culture of team synchrony emphasises the importance of diverse perspectives, constructive dissent, and open dialogue, which leads to better outcomes and enhanced team performance.
Groupthink occurs when team members prioritise harmony and consensus over individual perspectives and independent thinking. It’s like a powerful force that lulls teams into a false sense of agreement, blinding them to alternative viewpoints and potential pitfalls. In this state, dissenting voices are suppressed, and conformity becomes the norm. The result? A team that operates on autopilot, making poor decisions without robust scrutiny or creative exploration.
The negative consequences of groupthink can be far-reaching. Decision-making becomes flawed, as critical analysis takes a backseat to conformity. Alternative solutions and innovative ideas are overlooked, leading to missed opportunities for growth and improvement. The team becomes susceptible to making rash or irrational choices, driven by the desire to maintain harmony rather than objectively evaluate options.
Groupthink exists in teams all over the world, even in well-run organisations. Think of instances where companies failed to challenge prevailing assumptions and continued down a path that ultimately led to failure or decline. These situations often arise when dissenting voices are dismissed or discouraged, creating an echo chamber of agreement.
To understand the underlying neuroscience behind groupthink, we need to delve into the intricate workings of the human brain, because Groupthink is actually quite favourable for our brains to engage in. One of the reasons is, our brains are wired for social connection, and in a team setting, this wiring can contribute to the emergence of groupthink. Social identity also plays a significant role, as team members strive to align with the group’s beliefs and values, fearing social rejection if they deviate from the consensus.
But that’s not all. Emotional influences also come into play, as the desire for acceptance and validation drives team members to prioritise harmony over critical thinking. Additionally, cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias and the illusion of invulnerability, cloud judgment and reinforce groupthink tendencies. Neurotransmitters, like dopamine and oxytocin, are also released when we engage in groupthink playing a part in creating a sense of reward and bonding within the group, further reinforcing the desire for agreement.
Lastly, cognitive dissonance reduction plays a role in perpetuating groupthink. When team members experience internal conflicts between their personal beliefs and the group’s consensus, they often resolve this discomfort by conforming to the group’s viewpoint, sacrificing independent thought in the process.
So from a neuroscience perspective, it’s very easy and almost natural for groupthink to occur as it taps into our visceral need for belonging and safety. Understanding these neuroscientific processes can shed light on why groupthink takes hold and how it hampers team dynamics and decision-making. By recognising the factors at play, we can take proactive steps to mitigate the negative effects of groupthink and pave the way for a more constructive and innovative approach to team collaboration. To do that, we need to dig a little deeper than the surface level harmony that’s eating away at your future success.
The Right Way – Team Neural Synchrony
Now let’s talk about the better alternative, Team Synchrony. And one of the important things to understand about this is, it’s no harder to achieve – it just requires a slightly different focus and a different environment cultivated.
Imagine a team where individuals collaborate seamlessly, leveraging their diverse perspectives and engaging in robust critical evaluation. A team where innovation flourishes, decisions are well-informed, and creativity thrives. This is the world of team neural synchrony—a powerful concept that revolutionises how we approach teamwork and decision-making.
Team neural synchrony refers to a state in which the brains of team members are interconnected and harmoniously aligned. It’s a dynamic process where neural activity among team members becomes synchronised and co-ordinated, creating a foundation for effective collaboration. This synchronisation enables seamless information processing, enhanced communication, and a shared understanding of goals and objectives through shared mental models and optimisation.
As a neuroscientist, it’s always baffling to me when organisations go out and hire the best talent, only to then pigeon hole that talent and restrict them from using what makes them great. They put them in a box, and make them follow the rules and keep their mouth shut in the name of achieving a common goal. Instead, we need to bring out that brilliance that we’re already paying for to it’s full advantage, so as a leader you’re getting every dollars worth of that person. This is when the significance of team synchrony cannot be overstated. When team members’ brains sync up, their collective intelligence amplifies, leading to improved decision-making and problem-solving. Diverse perspectives are valued and embraced, as each individual brings their unique insights and expertise to the table. This diversity fuels innovation and helps teams navigate complex challenges with agility and adaptability.
The benefits of team neural synchrony extend beyond the realm of creativity and decision-making. It not only makes what you’re doing now better, it future proofs your business as well. It fosters a culture of trust and psychological safety, where team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas, even if they challenge the status quo. This open and inclusive environment encourages perspective-taking, empathy, and active listening—a stark contrast to the stifling effects of groupthink.
The advantages of team synchrony are supported by a growing body of evidence-based research from the fields of neuroscience and management. Studies have shown that teams exhibiting neural synchrony demonstrate higher levels of task performance, creative problem-solving, and successful collaboration. The interconnectedness of team members’ brains facilitates efficient information sharing and coordination, resulting in improved outcomes.
To achieve team neural synchrony, foundational cognitive and emotional skills play a vital role. Effective communication is key, as it allows team members to express their thoughts and ideas clearly and actively listen to one another. Empathy and perspective-taking enable a deeper understanding of diverse viewpoints, fostering an inclusive and collaborative team environment.
Open-mindedness is another crucial skill in nurturing team neural synchrony. Being receptive to alternative perspectives and new ideas encourages critical evaluation and prevents the tunnel vision often associated with groupthink. Finally, emotional regulation is essential in maintaining a constructive team atmosphere, as it helps manage conflicts, reduces stress, and promotes positive interactions.
To enhance these skills within teams and organisations, practical strategies and techniques can be employed. Encouraging open dialogue and creating platforms for sharing ideas can stimulate neural synchrony. Training programs focused on communication, emotional agility, and constructively voicing dissent can provide team members with the tools they need to cultivate these skills. Additionally, promoting a culture of psychological safety, where individuals feel empowered to express their thoughts without fear of judgment or reprisal, fosters an environment conducive to team neural synchrony.
By embracing team synchrony as the right way to collaborate, organisations can unlock the full potential of their teams. It’s a paradigm shift that promotes creativity, critical thinking, and inclusivity—all essential ingredients for success in today’s complex and rapidly evolving business landscape.
Overcoming Barriers to Team Neural Synchrony
While team synchrony holds great promise for enhancing collaboration and decision-making, there are common challenges and barriers that organisations must overcome to foster its development. Hierarchical structures, lack of psychological safety, and fear of dissent are among the hurdles that can impede the journey towards team neural synchrony. It’s about having leaders that are truly transformational, and are able to grow and develop talent rather than rule with an iron fist. Let’s explore 3 areas to break down these barriers and create a culture that nurtures independent thinking, constructive dissent, and psychological safety.
- Hierarchical Structures
One of the primary challenges organisations face is hierarchical structures that stifle open communication and discourage input from team members at different levels. To promote team synchrony, it’s essential to foster a culture that values contributions from all team members, regardless of their position or tenure. Leaders can create opportunities for everyone to participate in decision-making processes, actively seeking input from diverse voices. This inclusive approach sends a powerful message that every perspective matters and encourages independent thinking.
- Psychological safety
Psychological safety is another critical factor in achieving team synchrony. Team members must feel safe to express their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of judgment or negative consequences. Leaders play a vital role in cultivating psychological safety by creating an environment that supports risk-taking and open dialogue. They can encourage constructive dissent and foster a culture where differing opinions are welcomed and valued. When team members feel safe to challenge ideas and express their views, team neural synchrony can thrive.
Successful organizations have demonstrated the power of team neural synchrony in achieving remarkable results. Companies like Google and Pixar have embraced a culture that encourages collaboration, independent thinking, and psychological safety. They have implemented strategies such as cross-functional teams, open feedback channels, and designated time for creative exploration. These organizations understand that promoting team neural synchrony drives innovation and brings out the best in their teams.
Leadership plays a crucial role in creating an environment conducive to team synchrony. Leaders must model the behaviours they seek to foster within their teams. By actively listening to diverse perspectives, demonstrating openness to new ideas, and encouraging healthy debate, leaders set the tone for collaboration and critical thinking. They can also facilitate team-building activities, promote trust-building exercises, and provide training on effective communication and emotional intelligence. Strong leadership creates the foundation for team neural synchrony to flourish.
Overcoming barriers to synchrony requires a concerted effort from organisations and their leaders. By dismantling hierarchical structures for communication purposes, promoting psychological safety, and embracing independent thinking, organisations can create a culture that nurtures synchrony. Through leadership that fosters an environment of collaboration and open dialogue, organisations can unlock the full potential of their teams and harness the power of team neural synchrony.
The key differences between groupthink and team synchrony lie in their outcomes and approaches. While groupthink seeks harmony at the expense of critical evaluation and innovation, team synchrony embraces diversity of thought and fosters collaborative decision-making. By understanding the underlying neuroscience and applying foundational cognitive and emotional skills, leaders can create an environment that promotes team neural synchrony and unlocks the full potential of their teams.
Fostering team synchrony is essential for improved team performance and organisational success. It enables teams to tap into the collective intelligence and perspectives of their members, leading to more effective collaboration, enhanced creativity, and better decision-making. The evidence from neuroscience and management research supports the advantages of team neural synchrony, highlighting its role in driving innovation and achieving remarkable outcomes.
As leaders and team members, it is crucial to implement the principles of synchrony in our own teams and organisations. By promoting independent thinking, constructive dissent, psychological safety, and the cultivation of foundational cognitive and emotional skills, we can create an environment that nurtures collaboration and innovation. Embrace diverse perspectives, encourage open dialogue, and create space for critical evaluation.
Let’s challenge ourselves to explore and apply these concepts in our daily work. Seek opportunities to enhance communication, empathy, perspective-taking, open-mindedness, and emotional regulation within your teams. Engage in discussions, share ideas, and encourage your colleagues to contribute their unique insights. By doing so, we can move beyond the confines of groupthink and unleash the power of team synchrony.
In the pursuit of excellence, remember that true harmony does not come from silencing dissent and conforming to a single viewpoint. It arises when diverse minds collaborate, challenge each other’s ideas, and collectively strive for the best outcomes. Let us embrace the journey towards team neural synchrony, where the brilliance of each individual shines, and the collective intelligence of the team propels us towards success.
To assess whether your team exhibits more of a groupthink culture or team neural synchrony, consider the following 10 quick questions.
Answer each with a simple Yes or No.
- Do team members regularly express different opinions and ideas that change the plan?
- Are there planned opportunities for disagreement during team discussions?
- Are decisions made after considering multiple perspectives and alternatives?
- Does the leader actively seek feedback and input from different team members?
- Do team members feel encouraged to challenge assumptions and plans?
- Are differing opinions valued and respected within the team and acted on?
- Are decisions made based on objective evidence and logical reasoning rather than ‘I know what I’m doing’?
- Do team members actively listen to and consider differing viewpoints?
- Are mistakes viewed as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than sources of blame?
- Does the team regularly engage in reflection and self-assessment to identify areas for growth and development?
If you answered more Yes than No to these questions, your team demonstrates a culture of team neural synchrony, where open communication, diverse perspectives, and critical thinking are valued.
If you answered more No than Yes, it may indicate a tendency towards groupthink, where consensus and conformity overshadow independent thinking and constructive dissent.
Remember, it’s important to foster an environment that encourages individual voices and promotes collaborative decision-making for better team dynamics and performance.
If you had more than 3 ‘No’ answers, reach out to us on how we can help to improve your team.
Just email us on email@example.com