Groupthink and Scrum

People who apply Scrum in their projects are familiar with Tuckman’s stages of group development which describe the phases a team runs through every time it is formed or changed.
The assumption is that the team members have to find their role before they can be productive. They get to know each other and conflicts are resolved during the storming phase.

Then after the norming phase often something interesting happens. When the people feel comfortable with their role they tend to avoid conflicts and discussions. This is natural and not a problem per se, but sometimes it hinders innovation and striving for the better.

In 1952 William H. Whyte already coined the term GroupThink which describes this behavior.


“Groupthink is a type of thought within a deeply cohesive in-group whose members try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas.

During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking.

Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance.”

And indeed if you work with people closely for a longer time (which is common in a Scrum setting), Groupthink is likely to happen. The consequences are underestimated risks, failing sprints and finally not delivering the promised results.

In order to avoid that, a Scrum Master should foster a healthy level of controversy among the team. He or she should encourage the team members to argue for the best solutions.
This must happen in a fair and constructive atmosphere in order not to damage the team. It requires strong interpersonal skills of the team members and the Scrum Master in particular.

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