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Do You Dare To Disagree?


I see your point, but if I agree we will both be wrong…

Have you ever been to a business meeting, to be faced with some difficult decision or subject matter, and found that people agreed with one another because it was the safest or most politically agreeable thing to do? Have you been one of them? Have you seen a decision recorded that you knew was wrong, or at least not discussed fully or the thorny edges exposed?

It happens all the time; particularly in regard to change planning discussions.

Change is perceived as a risky business in the world of management. Congenial agreement with others is a safe haven in the storm of uncertain outcomes and hard decisions.

Without consensus, teams fail to reach a common ground on what actions need to be taken because of internal politics or cohesive cultures. The same people constituting a work group or project team may be successful or not depending on the way the group process is structured.

Not reaching agreement because of conflict typically results in the most senior person imposing a decision without the commitment of the participants; both exposing themselves to the risk of failure and regressing to the inadequate process where there is a hearing of opinions before the executive decides on what is to be done. There is little effective participation and the advantages gained from good team work have been lost.

Within this wholly comfortable environment the danger is not that an individual will fail to reveal their objections, but that they will simply accept each proposal as a good one, without any careful, critical scrutiny of the pros and cons of the alternatives.

The more cohesive the group, the greater the inner compulsion of each member to avoid creating disunity, which inclines him to believe in the soundness of whatever proposals are promoted by the leader or a majority of the group’s members. In effect it’s the subliminal re-establishment of autocracy and results in the same poor decision-making practices, loss and inadequate solutions, but without any one individual taking ultimate responsibility.

Janis goes on to reveal a number of immediate consequences of cohesive group situations:

  1. The group limits its discussions to just a few alternative courses of action (often only two) without an initial survey of all alternatives that might be worthy of consideration.

  2. The group fails to re-examine the course of action initially preferred by the majority after they learn of risks and drawbacks they had not considered originally.

  3. The members spend little or no time discussing whether there are non-obvious gains they may have overlooked or ways of reducing the seemingly prohibitive costs that made rejected alternatives appear undesirable.

  4. Members make little or no attempt to obtain information from experts within their own organisation who might be able to supply more precise estimates of potential losses and gains.

  5. Members show positive interest in facts and opinions that support their preferred policy and tend to ignore facts and opinions that do not.

  6. Members spend little time deliberating about how the chosen policy might be hindered by bureaucratic inertia, sabotaged by political opponents, or derailed by common accidents. Consequently, they fail to work out contingency plans to cope with foreseeable setbacks that could endanger the overall success of their chosen course.

Do you recognise the above symptoms in your organisation? When planning change the input of everyone affected is essential to its effectiveness. So how will you overcome the dangers of Groupthink?

For how to avoid Groupthink using unbiased teams, see

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