Being a part of a group that conquers the impossible…it’s a great thing. Historically speaking, these stories make for some great entertainment: the Manhattan Project scientists that came together to end a war; the NASA employees that worked with a pile of unrelated, random items and formulated a plan to bring Apollo 13 astronauts home. By learning about these people and their fabulous achievements, we learn that great things can be accomplished when brilliant minds come together.
The term “groupthink” is often used to describe where a group of people come together to solve a business problem and make decisions that lead to failure. And while there’s a lot of study devoted to individual decision making failures, there’s precious little out there that talks about why groups fail. But I was reading my beloved Harvard Business Review last week and came upon an article that talked about exactly that, determining that groups often fail because
- They respond to informational signals from other individuals that may or may not be correct. For instance, if a group is undecided if the correct answer is #1 or #2 and one person says, “Oh, it’s definitely #1,” the others may be easily swayed to decide the same
- They go along with crowds, or with the boss, so as to preserve their reputations
When your manager has been charged with running a task group to solve a particular business problem, you can provide some Revolutionary assistance by keeping these elements in check:
Encourage your manager (or the senior presiding member) to keep his mouth shut for a while – And by that, I mean a while longer than he thinks it might be necessary. People are often hesitant to provide any kind of opposing viewpoint if the boss speaks his mind first. And, if the boss is wrong, then the whole group is in danger of going down the wrong solution path.
Do “critical thinking” exercises with the group – I found this an interesting study done by authors Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie. Tasks (or ice breakers) that encourage the group to get along also discourages group members from bringing up opposing viewpoints. A critical thinking exercise, however, does the opposite.
Assign roles – When at a former company, I served on several task teams that pulled from all different disciplines. One group was charged with bringing in stellar fourth quarter results. We had experts from operations, human resources, and so on. Each person who sat at the table brought a different viewpoint, and therefore his ideas were respected by the others. And we all went in understanding that the others looked at the world differently and would logically argue a different viewpoint as a result.
Appoint a devil’s advocate, or a “red team” – Encourage your manager to appoint someone to argue the opposite point of view, or, in the case of a “red team,” go out and try to prove that the opposite is true. You’re bound to see both sides of the coin when using that approach.
Other suggestions brought up in the article, like rewarding group success versus individual success, or using the Delphi method, are also viable ideas and can be reviewed with your manager as well.
Groups accomplish terrific things, and as a Revolutionary Assistant I know that you want your manager to lead a group that does exactly that. Popular opinion isn’t always the right opinion, but if you navigate the potholes you can win wars, save lives and more!
Next post: Wednesday, September 9