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What We're Reading
Groupthink. Irving L. Janis, 1982. Houghton Mifflin, 2nd edition
First written in 1972, this book is a classic. Irving Janis, a professor at Yale University described the psychological condition called Groupthink. Groupthink occurs when a group suppresses contrary opinions, data and conflict in order to maintain the group’s cohesiveness. By presenting case studies of how the public policy decisions or actions led to disaster, Janis shows how highly competent people can keep their doubts to themselves.
In the first edition he contrasts the disastrous Bay of Pigs decision with the more successful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The second edition adds a case study on Watergate. While reading the now 24 year old book, I was struck by how fresh the writing is and how it is apparent that Groupthink is alive and well.
There are three techniques for avoiding groupthink.
First, learn how to create a positive environment for conflicting opinions. Called the Good Fight by authors Eisenhardt, Kahwajy, and Bourgeois (Harvard Business Review reprint #97402), it means learning how to get all the different opinions and knowledge out in a group without it appearing as a personal attack. High performing organizations have Good Fights and everyone leaves the room respecting each other. The payoff is that they discover potentially new ideas or information before their competitors. One technique to ensure Good Fights is to force the development of multiple alternatives instead of only considering one. You can also assign different people to argue for the alternative they oppose.
A second technique to avoid Groupthink is to make your decision making process clear. Many groups and some cultures assume a consensus model of decision making in which all have to agree to the decision. This can result in a watered down decision since it is almost impossible to have any sort of a group completely agree on anything. Instead, you might adopt the decision making process of consensus with qualification. That means you give the group a set period of time to come to agreement and if they don’t, a designated decision maker then makes the final decision. The reason it is important to define the decision making process up front is that people will feel manipulated if they think they have a ‘vote’ when they don’t.
A third technique is to assign the role of contrarian to someone in the group. The contrarian’s job is to push the group to question all the underlying assumptions they are making. The contrarian has the role of pushing back on everyone’s thinking including those with power so it can be a difficult role. Be sure to rotate it within the group so everyone learns how to do it.
Finally, ask yourself when and how you have watched a group succumb to groupthink. What role did you play? How did you suppress your own opinions or withhold information that may have given the group a new angle to consider? As Karl Weick says in Managing the Unexpected, learn to look with doubt rather than certainty.
Enroll Now Three new TeleClasses on techniques to avoid Groupthink:
- The Good Fight: Why Amiability is the Enemy of Innovation (Jan. 23, 12 PM EST)
- Deciding How to Decide (Jan. 25, 12 PM EST)
- Groupthink: Who’s Acting as our Mindguard? (Jan. 30, 12 PM EST)
New Turnkey Training Modules
New turn-key training modules are available for:
- Improving Your Listening Skills
- Capitalizing on Team Talents
- Collaborative Skills for Teams
The programs are in modular form with PowerPoint presentations, videos, and leader’s scripts. All programs include an assessment that is incorporated into individualized participant guides. The video segments are very well done. Once you buy the license, you're free to run these programs with only a participant fee.
Call us (888.316.9544) for more information.
Thanks for your interest and support; and Happy Holidays!
Sue Annis Hammond