How much is groupthink an advantage for the early founding years of a startup?


Well, recently I had a chat with my current boss over my previous experience of getting booted out from a startup due to having different views from the 2 founders (they were very gd friends and always agree with each other) from time to time.

His reply was he feels new startups typically cannot tolerate people who hold/like to raise different opinions from the founder as they feel it is slowing them down even if the different opinion is actually a better one if carefully considered and adopted. Thus he said I'm perhaps not suitable in new startups with young founders as I tend to raise different opinions to an issue which he says he like in a more stable startup environment but not so sure if it's good in a very new startup.

Obviously, it hurts to hear the hard truth (if it's true), but I would like hear more opinions too. As startup founders in the founding years of your company, do you guys very much prefer people who almost always agree with you and to keep quiet when they didn't? Is groupthink actually valued because decisions arrives much quicker?

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asked Jan 13 '12 at 09:37
111 points

3 Answers


Well, it depends.

If people are good at participating in the discussion, understand the long term goals and the principles under which we are operating the business and their arguing from the "best for all concerned" then I would definitely want tham in the discussion and am happy when they can convince me I'm wrong.

If on the other hand they don't share the same core values, are trying to improve their own position over everyone else, just want to say no and kill ideas, don't understand the full range of implications (and aren't willing to learn), then they are just a road block which isn't adding value to the discussion.

A few examples of the negative:

  • We tried to include all staff of one of our startups in some discussions a few years ago. There was one trainer who couldn't understand that there wasn't infinite funds and that the money they were being paid wasn't the sum total of what they cost to run. Every time we worked through how to scale up they would add another 5 people in "because we need them" and I couldn't get it through that the costs of doing so were beyond our means and we needed to find a better solution.
  • We had an account manager who was focused primarily on their own bank account today rather than the common goal of growing the company and improving all (including theirs) collectively. Thus every answer they gave was a very short term answer which burnt us longer term with clients or resource allocation. The smaller the company the more damaging a single person can be.
  • We have had a developer who is intensly negative about everything, and effectively crushed any ideas before they could be fleshed out and given a chance to live. We had to leave them out of the discussions in order to progress.

A few examples of the positive:

  • After a long series of discussions and failed designs, we have had developers get so into the problem they have spent their entire weekend and come in Monday morning with "how about this?" It solved the problem nicely and 10 years later is part of a much larger product suite we now sell.
  • We aren't really a startup anymore, we are a 15 year old company who builds startups but we all still sit around after work 2-3 nights a week with any employees that wish to join in and discuss any and all issues, strategies, ideas and problems, collectively solving them.

So overall I think the group discussion is critical to long term success, no one person can know it all or do it all and different experience and backgrounds are vital to help navigate the near limitless set of problems and hurdles thrown at founders. But you need to choose wisely and work out who is contributing well and who is damaging the results. This is a key challenge for the leaders in any walk of life.

answered Jan 13 '12 at 12:58
Robin Vessey
8,394 points


Different opinions are a problem anywhere. And which opinion is 'better' is typically decided by the golden rule (who ever has the gold rules).

Groupthink (which is a another name for a committee) is very difficult to get right. All you need is one win-every-argument person or a weak leader and the process fails.

Instead, try 'selling' your ideas. Find out their objections and reasons and see if you can work around them and 'sell' your idea.

answered Jan 13 '12 at 14:10
1,231 points


Most startups rarely stick to their original strategy, so I don't see the advantage of blindly following the current plan.

As long as you are inserting your opinions in your area of exertisee, the group should be thinking like you.

No two or more people agree on everything.

Are you a partner or an employee?

EDIT: Pick your battles wisely. Use tact and select appropriate times and places to express your concerns. Being right is not an excuse to be rude.

answered Jan 14 '12 at 05:32
Jeff O
6,169 points
  • Well you can say officially I'm an employee, but working like a partner too. I'm not considered an official founder as I didn't fork out money in setting up the business except for working for v. low wages. I'm the friend of 1 of the founders but not both. Area of expertise well, I do believe I'm commenting on areas where I had domain knowledge in, however, others may not feel that way and felt they know more. There is also the politics that we can't live with the designer as a designer style is unique and difficult to reproduce. Thus it maybe easier to fire me. – Snowpolar 12 years ago

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