Teams and Groupthink

group_of_business_people_1600_wht_8392It’s two years since the Treasury Select Committee published its findings on the global financial breakdown.

Reading the various reports on the Treasury Select Committee’s findings brought back memories of the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 which failed and probably strengthened Castro’s position.

Irving Janis’s extensive work on the subject of Groupthink included his analysis of the reasons for that and other failures. And it still holds true today.

In recent times it has become a common belief that team working is the key to delivering results and that the more cohesive the group, the more effective it is.

It may be more fun to work in such a group but the evidence also suggests that members of groups may indulge in “social loafing”, there can be diffusion of responsibility in the absence of individual goals, and that sometimes individuals can outperform teams.

Janis proposed that close-knit teams are insufficiently critical of each other, don’t seek alternatives, believe in the group’s invincibility, want consensus, restrict negative information and generally, as the Select Committee said, adopt a herd mentality.

The Select Committee suggested that diversity was the answer – in this example by having more women at senior levels. This is old news now; on a similar note in Management Today at the time Emma de Vita bemoaned the testosterone fuelled culture in the city and made some interesting points about leadership styles.

She also and cited some research at London Business School that found that having a 50-50 gender balance produced more effective, stable and innovative teams. A finding that the Norwegian government  put into practice in 2008 so that all public companies are required by law to have 40% of females on the board. Spain had just given companies 10 years to follow suit. http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/865053/

It had previously been suggested in The Times suggested that women board members may be better at getting rid of bad bosses (but not as good at making money) as women tend not to meet at the golf course or the club and may be less susceptible to groupthink.

Gender is not the only difference that organisations should explore however. Different socio-economic backgrounds, qualifications, and career experiences are probably more important. See post on Teams & Diversity

And the dangers of creating an inner cabal or kitchen cabinet probably cost the Conservatives electoral victory in 2010.
The failure of the Tory’s “Big Idea” to energise voters and the last-minute slide in the polls infuriated many conservative MPs. They blamed David Cameron’s “Leadership by Inner Circle”.

He apparently relied on a close group of advisors rather than the shadow cabinet which he informed rather than consulted. Candidates were saying that the public wasn’t interested in the “Big Idea” but more mundane issues such as crime and immigration. Failure to listen to critics and a wider circle is symptomatic of Groupthink.

Original post 12 April 2010

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