I’m pretty sure that most CIOs have heard about groupthink by now. We all know that what we really want to do is to surround ourselves with people who think differently than we do. Our goal is that when issues come up, we can bring the brightest minds to the table and generate a wealth of different ideas. The hope is that one of those ideas will be the right idea and we’ll be able to recognize it and run with it. If we are engaging in group think, then what we want is not going to happen…
The Danger Of Groupthink
I’m pretty sure that by now everyone knows about the concept of groupthink. This happens when a tightly knit and overconfident set of decision makers create an insular echo chamber, then fail to see the big picture, and end up making poor decisions. Most of us probably think we have a good sense of the sorts of conditions that can cause groups to fall into this trap. But how good is our understanding? For just a moment, let’s play a game. If you had to guess, which of the following teams would be the most likely to fall prey to groupthink?
A friendly team of long-term coworkers or a new collection of new employees who haven’t had time to form a close personal bond?
A team composed of the people who have worked together before or that same team where an outsider has been brought in to provide them with a fresh perspective?
A group with a confident leader who brings a clear vision of how to do things or a relatively unstructured group lacking a strong authority figure?
Intuitively, you might think that the first group in each pair is the more likely to exhibit symptoms of groupthink. You would think that they would fall too quickly into overconfident consensus. However, research actually suggests that it is often the second set of groups that is more prone to this problem.
What most of CIOs fail to understand is how group behavior is driven by social identity (this is how people define themselves as a member of a group), which can push them either toward insularity and conformity or toward divergent thinking and dissent. What’s more, this isn’t just something that researchers take a look at. If people had a better sense of what conditions lead to groupthink, most groups in society would probably be able to function far more effectively.
CIOs want to become the type of leader who can effectively guide a group without succumbing to groupthink. In order to make this happen we need to take the time to recognize that a lack of cohesion within a team, when people are new to a team or don’t trust each other, can be a greater contributor to groupthink than happy camaraderie. Taking the time to build trust and a feeling of psychological safety is a key part of being a CIO. We also have to be attentive to events that can threaten a team’s identity and that could motivate people to turn inward and start to batten down their hatches. When it is appropriate, we need to find ways to reduce these threats. We have to come up with ways to remove outsider scrutiny or reduce the stakes of decisions, so that our team can focus on the job at hand rather than worry about how they are being judged.
One thing the CIOs can do in order to prevent groupthink from happening is to tackle these threats directly and reward the right behavior within your teams. You need to understand that you must enrich a cohesive group with healthy social norms, procedures and incentives that will help to mitigate groupthink and foster constructive dissent. You will want to help your team see scrutiny as a source of strength, not weakness, and reward your people for seeking out constructive criticism.
Finally, you are going to want to make sure your team is working toward the right goals. I think that we can all agree that sometimes managing public relations is the priority, but is that what you really want everyone to be doing at this time? It’s critical for you to signal when it’s appropriate to think about the external, political considerations and when it isn’t. Understanding how our groups operate isn’t an easy thing for a CIO to do. However, wrapping our head around the science of identity is a fundamental way to get smarter about groups and building smarter groups.
What All Of This Means For You
CIOs have to be able to make good decisions. We can’t always make these by ourselves and so we often rely on input from people around us. What this means is that we need to make sure that we’ll be getting good input and diverse opinions so that we can get a complete view of things that we are trying to decide about. However, if we are not careful, groupthink can take over and all of sudden we’ll just be getting our own thoughts and opinions echoed back to us.
Groupthink is something that happens when a tightly knit and overconfident set of decision makers create an insular echo chamber, then fail to see the big picture, and end up making poor decisions. Situations that the people on our team find themselves in can push them either toward insularity and conformity or toward divergent thinking and dissent. We want the latter, not the former. If there is a lack of cohesion within a team, then groupthink may be allowed to show up. We also have to take steps to make sure that people on our team don’t feel threatened. As CIO you have to create healthy social norms, procedures and incentives that will help to mitigate groupthink.
The decisions that we are being called on are not easy decisions to make. In order to do a good job of making these decisions, we need to ensure that we have access to the best advice that we can get. The people providing that advice have to be able to see things differently than we do in order to be able to provide us with the viewpoints that we are going to need. This means that CIOs have to actively take steps to make sure that groupthink is not present in their workplace. Take steps to keep everyone’s view different.
Question For You: What do you think is the best way to detect if groupthink has taken hold in your workplace?
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