How leaders prevent Group Think
I once watched in awe how a great leader in an organization managed the group dynamics in a difficult situation to take the organization’s culture from a disaster to renewal within the space of one weekend.
The situation arose following the merger of two nation wide financial services organizations. One of the organizations was dominant after the other had nearly failed financially. There was a great deal of bitterness between the two staff from each of the merged entities. It was also a time of bitter industrial disputes when the staff were actually damaging employer’s property and morale was very low.
The managing director at the time by passed the state administration and selected 100 employees from a cross section of roles at all levels from both backgrounds of the merged entities. He invited them to stay as his guests for a weekend at the Hyatt hotel to discuss the issues.
He divided them into ten groups with members from both of the merged entities and set them to the task of identifying the critical issues causing the poor morale and industrial disputes. They were also requested to recommend ideas for solutions to the problems. Each of the ten groups had a spokeperson that was not a senior member of staff. Naturally, this process had change management facilitators whose role was to ensure the process of innovation and idea generation flowed smoothly in the ten groups.
From the conference consultative committees were formed with regularly reporting of progress of the recommended solutions to the board, senior management and staff. This meeting became a legend over the ensuring years and the morale of the organization turned around along with its financial performance.
Decision making groups are not all destined for Group Think
The writers of Wikipedia have reported that Irving Janis has devised the following methods of preventing Group Think: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_think:
According to Irving Janis, decision making groups are not necessarily destined to groupthink. He devised seven ways of preventing groupthink (209-15):
- Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
- Higher-ups should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
- The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
- All effective alternatives should be examined.
- Each member should discuss the group’s ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
- The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
- At least one group member should be assigned the role of Devil’s advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting.
How did John F. Kennedy avoid Group Think during the Cuban Missle Crisis?
By following these guidelines, groupthink can be avoided. After the Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco, John F. Kennedy sought to avoid groupthink during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During meetings, he invited outside experts to share their viewpoints, and allowed group members to question them carefully. He also encouraged group members to discuss possible solutions with trusted members within their separate departments, and he even divided the group up into various sub-groups, in order to partially break the group cohesion. JFK was deliberately absent from the meetings, so as to avoid pressing his own opinion. Ultimately, the Cuban missile crisis was resolved peacefully, thanks in part to these measures.
In the next post I will start to look at managing innovation and ideas in tough times when the survival of a business can be on the line