When was the last time an employee told you something he or she knew you didn’t want to hear?
When was the last time a person on your management team expressed disagreement with everyone else–and stood by their conviction?
The fact is it’s easier for people to go with the flow rather than rock the boat and it’s more common to think that things will stay the same than change. That is how Groupthink takes root. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people when the desire for harmony or conformity results in faulty decision-making.
When it comes to Groupthink war and business have many parallels. In the Yom Kippur War of 1973 Israel was nearly overrun by a coordinated surprise attack by Egypt and Syria. Soon after, the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate began investigating weaknesses within their own organizations. Why, they asked, had they been so unprepared? How had they missed the warning signs and suspicious activity near their borders? And, more importantly, why did those who had concerns not vocalize them? Soon they discovered that Groupthink had infected the leadership of the military and intelligence departments.
In order to combat Groupthink, a special task force began cultivating a new culture of openness and diversity of ideas. They established a “devil’s advocate” office charged with criticizing conventional thinking and questioning the analyses of other departments. This special office was well-funded and supplied with highly-experienced individuals from diverse backgrounds who were each given the authority to ask tough questions. The analysts could express alternate opinions and they were even free to critique the conclusions of their superiors. Their superiors were in turn encouraged not to criticize analysts who wrote such memos.
This strategy worked for a nation, but could it also work for a business?
I would suggest the following three guidelines to help your company remain open to criticism without destroying confidence in its leaders:
- The leadership team needs to remain united in their collective pursuit of the company’s vision, mission, and core values. Your core values should be virtually non-negotiable and guarded like the keep of the castle. They can change, but it should be about as difficult as amending the Constitution. If an employee questions the vision, mission, and core values of the company, they should be prepared to lose their job for it.
- Create proper channels for open communication throughout the organization and ensure that people aren’t afraid to use them. These are like pressure valves. If you don’t have them you’re going to be faced with an explosion. Or, if not an explosion, you will have passive aggressive employees sowing seeds of dissent and undermining your efforts.
- According to Irving Janis (an anti-Groupthink guru): Consider starting discussions with your leadership team by asking the least senior director or manager to give their opinion first. Or, have larger groups split into smaller groups to discuss issues separately before discussing all together.
Building an impactful business does not require a leader of unquestioned authority surrounded by eager yes-men. It requires a corporate culture that embraces new ideas, change, and keen insights. These things can only exist in an open environment where unconventional thinking thrives.
Images courtesy of nongpimmy and worradmu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Learn more about Israel’s intelligence reforms following the Yom Kippur War: