UCL School of Management

8 March 2022

Consensus-based problem-solving groups kill innovative ideas

Paintbrush swipes with different colours showing people sat around a table with a lightbulb in the middle.

When faced with a problem, organisations often create a specific task force or steering committee to solve it. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Sarah Harvey and her co-authors highlight their research findings to explain the issue of groupthink with such groups.

Groupthink is when individuals feel psychological pressure to conform to the opinions and views of the collective, often they come to a decision without challenging the status quo or deliberating other options. But not all such task forces succumb to this pressure and in those instances it can be an excellent way to generate new innovative ideas, procedures and policies.

Sarah’s research followed four different task forces established by the American Health Information Community (AHIC) whose goal was to recommend a process to the U.S secretary of health and human services to make American’s health care records electronic.

The study found that those who avoided groupthink followed these three steps; 1) they challenged the status quo 2) they adopted a placeholder solution 3) they celebrated progress towards a final agreement.

By just one member challenging the status quo, it acts as a “trigger” for the rest of the group to relevel how they each view the problem at hand. They then have the space to offer a placeholder solution, known as a liminal idea, to explore a variety of options and then later drill down into the specifics. Groups who then recognise and encourage these liminal ideas and can come to a consensus around the problem and have the momentum to push forward and delve into the detail about how to execute the idea.

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Last updated Wednesday, 9 March 2022