Thinking like a group? Part II

We’re back, did everyone have a good night after reading Thinking like a group? Part I?  Did everyone evaluate the type of leader you are or want to be: complex and open or simple and closed? Let’s jump right back into groupthink by looking at a couple other types.

Other Types and Outcomes of Groupthink:

Expert’s Input: Elizabeth Harrin addresses some really great topics in her blog A Girl’s Guide to Project Management but I’d like to focus on her piece Group Think and Risky Shift. In it she talks about Risky Shift which is “… the difference between the average risk taken by individuals and the risk taken by the group. This can generate either a risky shift towards a higher risk position or, equally, a cautious shift towards a more risk-averse stance.” What a powerful concept to consider and even more so what dangerous situation to be in. That way of decision making could wreck your project in a few short steps in the wrong direction. And even if the project is successful through a process of risky shift, how healthy was the process if your project succeeded because everyone jumped on board to a risky decision; especially when members knew better? That’s the difference there, risky decisions are necessary sometimes for your project but in the face of your internal voice telling you to “stop”, “speak up!”. Again, if the project is successful because of this type of decision making, it will only go to justify this type of behavior on future projects, in future groups. Don’t be a part of bad habit making that could ultimately damage the individual for all future projects; bad habits are hard to undo.

Side Note: In my search for quality content I ran across an article called: To avoid groupthink, become religious by Dale Davidson. It does not apply here but I thought it was an interesting approach to the very common subject of groupthink.

Expert’s Input: In an article titled ‘Happy Talk’ and the Dangers of Groupthink the authors Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie discuss a type of group think called “Happy Talk”. They define it as: “Happy talk occurs when group members say that all is going well and likely to go even better—that there is nothing to worry about.” The article is focuses on the type of leader that creates an atmosphere where Happy Talk can flourish and where it will probably never show up in the first place. Those two types of leaders are:Happy Talk

  • “Complacent leaders: Relaxed, upbeat, and contented. They think that things are entirely under control.
  • Anxious leaders: Focused on possible disasters. They fear that things are about to go wrong and perhaps spiral out of control.”

“Complacent people tend to be immensely likable. They seem like perfect team players. They can tell a terrific story. Some of them are visionaries. They don’t rock any boats. They are buoyant and full of smiles. They have plenty of ideas, many of which are excellent. They tend to be happy, and they like happy talk. It’s tempting to hire and promote them.”

By contrast: “When groups ultimately do well, it is often because they have anxious leaders and hence are better able to obtain and aggregate dispersed information—and to ensure that the groups know everything that their members know. Groups are also capable of learning, because anxiety is a great motivator. Groups need a little anxiety, maybe even a lot of it. They need a culture that enables them to find out what they need to know.”

Is it true that organizations tend to hire complacent leaders more than bringing abroad or elevating anxious leaders? Prior to this article, I myself could be very guilty of this; it’s definitely food-for-thought. Sounds like it would be very beneficial were I to have someone that was questioning, worrying, encouraging an atmosphere that learning. Why? “…because anxiety is a great motivator”

More on How to Steer Clear of Groupthink

Expert’s Input: In The dangers of “Groupthink” to effective decision making by Tony Grima lists six ways you prevent groupthink. These are somewhat different than the six listed in my last blog (with two overlaps) and you could probably compile a gazillion long list of other ways to fight groupthink.

  1. Be impartial and do not state preferences.
  2. Assign everyone the role of critical evaluator.
  3. Assign the devil’s advocate role to at least one person in the group.
  4. Use outside experts to challenge the group.
  5. Be open to dissenting points of view.
  6. Select a diverse team.

I love the idea of openly assigning the role of critical evaluator to everyone. But let me focus on this last step: “Selecting a diverse team”. Below are his three positive qualities to a diverse team:

  1. Diverse teams made better decisions– “… not only combining their strengths, but also Diversitycompensate for each others’ weaknesses. Different personality types balance and complement each other, which leads to more effective group processes and outcomes”
  2. Diverse teams avoid “groupthink”– “In homogeneous teams their main concern is to minimize conflict and reach agreement quickly which can miss critical problem analysis and evaluation. Diverse groups are more likely to raise new and innovative ideas and explore all information available.”
  3. Diverse teams produce better results – “… diverse teams were more productive and achieved better results although the journal can be bumpy with conflict and tension which if managed well, can lead to superior solutions to business problems.”

It’s easy selecting a bunch of like minded “self’s” to come in and agree with everything you say but for a successful project you’re going to need diversity and a devil’s advocate. Don’t forget that guy.

I was going to wrap up groupthink in this second of two posts but there is enough material to carry this over until tomorrow. While it would fit in today’s post, I’ve leaned towards keeping it “bite-sized-quanta” as a delivery method. So, to wrap up today, we’ve added to the type of leader that is best for eliminating the possibility of groupthink. In Part I, it was complex and open or simple and closed. Today we’ve added complacent or anxious. I will ask again, which are you or which do you want to be? A complex open leader with anxious tendencies? Or, a complacently simple and closed leader? Marinade on that and check back tomorrow for the THRILLING CONCLUSION.

Image Credits: Sketches by Author


3 thoughts on “Thinking like a group? Part II

  1. Thanks for including my blog in this article, but I can’t take credit for the thinking behind the piece about risky shift. That came from Mike Clayton, who wrote the original piece for my blog. I agree that it’s a powerful concept though and one that project managers should be aware of!


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