How do you implement teamwork in an office functioning under groupthink? The similarities between the two group styles are so closely related it is unquestionably easy to cross the fine line from ethical (teamwork) to unethical (groupthink) practices in the office. The repercussions can be costly. Therefore, to benefit your company, you must provide clear definitions and examples regarding the differences between the two behavior styles to help prevent crossing that line. As a manager, you should give the definitions and standards throughout the office for positive reinforcement (break rooms, your desk, hallways, the commercial kitchen, etc.). 

What is teamwork? Teamwork involves working with a group of individuals to achieve a goal. The goal is usually strategically oriented in nature and satisfies a portion of the company’s vision. The collaboration of each team member’s objective effort and balance of assigned responsibilities is crucial to the team’s survival. A wise manager will ensure that the individuals’ skill sets are collectively compatible so they benefit the team’s purpose, thus ultimately reaching the goal.

What is groupthink? It is a group of individuals who know the goal but do not focus on it. Duties are being assigned and completed, but the responsibilities’ orientation differs from the company’s strategic plan. In other words, the operation side of the business is being satisfied, but the vision still needs to be. The focus is on the majority’s opinion, which is then mistaken for individual feedback; each employee expects and depends on the other to yield when the majority agrees on a direction, misinterpreted as teamwork.

Here is a scenario that demonstrates how a chief operating officer (COO) led a branch office trapped by groupthink into functioning as a team:

A vacation club’s corporate office informed one of its branch offices where the booking agents (BA) were located and then released a new membership package to the sales team. There were high expectations that the membership package would be successful; therefore, booking agents would be busy. Most of the BA’s were veteran employees and settled, so they constantly advised the new employees to seek assistance from them regarding complex membership issues and limited geographical availability. This strategy would allow them a greater chance for long-term employment, and because it was how they usually did it, it kept the peace in the office.

This branch trained its new employees about the computer program and company terminology within the first three to four days of employment. Then the employees sat and listened to the veterans control live phone calls and schedule vacations weeks before they began independently handling their responsibilities. There was one daytime acting manager and one nighttime acting manager, who both controlled assigning geographical areas to preferred agents called “Core Agents.” Although not authorized by the corporate office, the lead manager created these positions because it was easier to do so.

During one of the new package training sessions, one of the new employees voiced her concern about clicking on the “terms and conditions” button for the members, indicating their consent to the package program, instead of having the members click on it themselves. The daytime acting manager, who conducted the training session, explained that there was still a glitch in the system, so the feature was yet to be visible to the members. Therefore, she and the employees were to proceed as instructed. The new employee respectfully stated that this was possibly an FTC or FCC violation.

The acting manager immediately informed the lead manager of the new employee’s statement. The lead manager instructed the new employee to forward any phone calls regarding the new package to a different employee and to continue taking calls for the older packages only. Later that day, veteran employees periodically advised the new employee to go with the flow because her job would last longer. The new employee felt threatened even though she knew she was correct. She loved her job and knew this practice was not in the company’s best interest. 

Is this group functioning as a team or under the unethical practice of groupthink? The fact that the lead manager made a minimal effort to address the issue of a potential violation and that she created two more positions without the corporate team’s knowledge using the “easier is better” approach are signs of a complacent manager instead of a wise one. Because of this, veterans controlled the office, and two acting managers decided whom to appoint as Core Agents. When comparing this scenario to the two group styles, there is no doubt that they are functioning under the unethical practice of groupthink.

Now, bring the COO into the picture. Since the new employee had an education and experience in this industry, they were uncomfortable with the veterans’ awkward statements, knew that the action expected of her was inappropriate, and knew that they had fulfilled her legal duty by respectfully refusing to commit the improper act. About unethical and illegal activities, they were to notify Human Resources (HR) about the incident via email, according to the company handbook; she reported the unethical practice of groupthink and mentioned that there were other ongoing issues. Three weeks elapsed without any reply from HR, so she emailed the COO, who immediately replied, thanking them for their concern and the company’s well-being.

The COO quickly investigated the booking agent’s refusal to complete the required task. He objectively collected information through unbiased problem-solving to perform the investigation in the company’s best interest. However, this is more difficult than it sounds. Who wants to admit the possibility of having an office full of dishonest veteran employees? Consequently, he treated the issue independently from the individuals involved to control his emotions. After an investigation, the COO discovered that the members’ inability to view the terms and conditions from their perspective was the one constant bearing the highest negative impact on the company.

The investigation findings compelled him to meet with the information technology department (IT) to verify that the constant was correct. Meanwhile, he scheduled a visit with the branch and instructed the lead manager that all new program members would be trained and supervised by management until further notice. Finally, after the IT department verified the issue, fixed it, and realized it was the reason for the new program’s unsuccessful launch, he took this information to the branch.

Throughout the process, he always retained sight of the program’s goals relative to the company’s vision and remained unbiased. During his visit, he discovered that the entire group cooperated rather than adhering to decisions made by management. This imbalance allowed him to reiterate each position’s job description during his visit. Additionally, he prepared an incentive program geared toward employees willing to bring valid issues and inconsistencies within the company to his attention. He clarified that this was to encourage initiative and innovation, but it was not a grievance process. At the monthly business meetings, the managers delivered a PowerPoint presentation concerning one of the issues and its solution. 

As you can see, the entire group is working as a team through problem resolution regarding the new program. The core problem — usually the constant — was located in the IT department, even though both offices were affected. Somebody would have impacted this employee if the COO had shown bias by using his emotions instead of restoring teamwork. More importantly, the underlying problem within the IT department may have yet to be discovered, resulting in a more costly launch. The COO answered questions during the entire visit to ensure that practices and attitudes remained in check. Their action throughout shows the difference between teamwork and groupthink.