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Getting Through the Groupthink October 22, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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“Groupthink”, or the vicious circle caused by a collection of like-minded individuals, has been around as long as there have been two sides to a story.  Apart from the fact that an organization can end up “breathing its own exhaust”, this phenomenon can affect even the simplest of decisions.

Many modern organizations manage by consensus, whereby the responsibility of the final decision rests with several people – which usually means that no one is responsible.  Such decision are often watered down and conservative – fine if your organization has the luxuries of time and money.  But when critical decisions must be made, there is precious little time for yes-men and conservatism.

While it may be difficult to break the group from its habit of “consensual sects”, it is possible to break the cycle of indecision that results.  Often, without a structured brainstorming session or some ground rules for developing ideas, such groups circle around and around (for hours) various pros and cons of a very limited range of alternatives – usually one or two.

Contrast this with a well-facilitated brainstorming in which ideas are gathered without regard for pros, cons, benefits, or value.  The goal is to develop alternatives, not rule them out – at least initially.  Simply having some concrete words written out can bring greater structure to the debate.  Sometimes, these decision-makers simply don’t know what they are looking for, but know it when the see it.

Next time your firm is struggling to find solutions to intractable problems, consider having someone facilitate a session, and see if some new ideas appear out of thin air.

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