Thinking like a group? Part III

After the second installment of Thinking like a group? anyone tired of groupthink yet? Hang with me a little while longer for a strong finish.

Expert’s Input: In Avoiding Groupthink in Project Management Teams Mark K discusses this topic after he read an article about flying. In it he lists several key points to consider in order to avoid groupthink in terms of project management:

  • As a project manager or leader it is our responsibility to create a culture where the discussion can always be open and frank.
  • We should also be careful in what we says in the beginning because team members are more apt to go along with the leader’s opinion as opposed to voicing their own opinion.
  • We need to take all internal and external opinions seriously.
  • We should be alert for anyone who is not saying anything and ask them directly for their opinion.

I especially identify with this last one but on a larger scale. What do you do when person not saying anything is the whole group? Say there is a group of twenty employees or more and they are being addressed by the owner/CEO of the company. And after delivering the news of a new course of action or changes to be made in the company’s structure the floor is turned over to the group for response. And all that’s reciprocated are crickets, nothing, nada, what then? It’s widely known that as soon as the meeting is adjourned, everything that was not said, will be said. How do you create an healthy atmosphere where all that cubicle talk (cubetalk) can take place in the open forum provided? From whom does the role of critical evaluator come from? In these situations, groupthink is rampant in both the silence and in the cubetalk afterwards. Ultimately it all depends on the type of leader and the type atmosphere they have created for groupthink to either flourish or never be given the chance to take root.

So is all group think bad and where did it come from?Bee

Expert’s Input: In Animal and Human Grouping Jim Sheedy discuses a version of group think in animals. “Some animals like bees and ants have very complex group behaviors and relationships that enable them to build impressive colonies.  These relationships largely serve to protect the species and/or to further its propagation.”

There are probably a lot of nature shows out there that show just what happens to that bee or ant that rejects complex group behaviors. They are probably rejected by the colony and turned out. It’s no wonder adhering to the group is easier then voicing our own dissenting opinion with the alternative of that being rejected and turned out.

He goes on to discuss: “Humans have demonstrated an amazing ability to work with one another … humans have been able to use their speech-based cognitive abilities to establish “group thinking”. “Survival of each human and their individual ego was dependent on the group. Individuals within the group began to acquire knowledge or skills that could benefit the group.”

So, is that where we got it from? We’re hardwired with some sort of survival mechanism to groupthink? In regards to groupthink it’s an obvious thought that our internal instinct is to follow the herd and feel safe, be protected. It’s easy to keep quiet, it’s easy to follow, but the rewards for critically thinking and speaking up can far outweigh to possible nasty outcomes associated with groupthink (think lemmings). I just hope you’re a part of a team, or the type of leader where one can speak up without fear of reprisal, where opposing opinions are encouraged.

Expert’s Input: In Where Group-Think Is Good Keith McFarland’s final comment in his article is: “If you’re looking for a way to make better decisions in your company, you will find that the more minds you get working on the problem, the better the solution.” So, there are ways in which groupthink can take place and be healthy given the appropriate platform. But, as a leader, we need to be facilitators of that platform, inviting anxious thinking and rewarding opposing views.

Very Expert’s Input: I’ going to wrap up with a blog post I found by Bret L. Simmons, who himself references then Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a speech to the West Point graduating class of 2009. The piece is entitled Gates on Leadership and in it Simmons outlines four points that resonate strongly with his philosophy of leadership. The third point is:  “Have the courage to say and do the right thing to further the shared purpose, even if no one else around you will do the same. Always see it as your responsibility to say what people need to hear, not what you think they want to hear. Fight with
every fiber of your being the insidious and pervasive phenomena of groupthink, and encourage others to do the same.” Wow! He makes it clear and with what I believe to be direct and necessary language that the greatest tool we have available to us to prevent groupthink: ourselves.  Reading further, in Simmons exert from CourageGates’s speech I found a related sentence and I want to wrap up these three groupthink posts with it:

“The hardest thing you may ever be called upon to do is stand alone among your peers and superior officers. To stick your neck out after discussion becomes consensus, and consensus ossifies into groupthink.”

Groupthink has been written about way too much because it’s in our nature to revert to it. We need to keep writing about it to remind us of its pitfalls. It’s never going to go away but the tools are there for us to fight it. We just have to have the courage to pick them up and use them properly. So, talk about groupthink, get it out in the open and make use of the greatest tool available to you to fight groupthink, yourself. The success of you as an individual, of your team and of the project will be rewarded in the process.

Image Credits: Sketches by Author

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