Sunday, May 24, 2015

Anti-Digital Mindset: Group Thinking and Abilene Paradox

Group thinking is often caused by the homogeneous team setting or lack of innovative culture.

Group Thinking or peer pressure is a term first used in 1972 by social psychologist Irving Janis that refers to a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group. In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group. In an Abilene paradox, a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many or all of the individuals in the group. You can see it at work when nobody wants to admit that the project is doomed, so they keep working on it, even though each person on the team knows it is futile. Why is it human nature to go along with what we believe the rest of the group wants to do without taking the time to actually check out if we are all taking a trip to Abilene?

First, it’s lack of critical thinking and independent thinking, or lack of courage to speak up:  Everyone knew the buzz about an unfavorable imitative that was underway, but nobody wanted to appear "negative." These are the kinds of things that are discussed in far corners of the office or the lavatory - in secret among trusted allies. We have to put some of the blame on the individual team members themselves, or the organizational culture - the collective minds or behaviors. Most of the time, he or she is afraid to speak up because they haven't thoroughly researched the issue or their ideas for an effective alternative. Because of that, he or she typically does not have the 'courage of their convictions' or confidence to speak up, while it is much easier to complain about the leader or the process after the meeting is over. Second, the vast majority of the team member's inputs are typically not very good or practical. Perhaps it is fair to say that the really good ideas or alternatives come from a very small percentage of team members who are really engaged in the business issue and process.

Then open leadership is crucial to encourage “Thinking Differently.” As leaders, we facilitate eliciting the views if they don't think of them on their own. Some people contribute better one on one, and others can handle group debate effectively. The key is leadership that supports fair and objective ways to get the best strategies in place. Lead the team through facilitation to get what the discussion requires. Everyone grows up with a different style and the business cultures in which they've worked will shape how confident they are. People also have different experience and personality, therefore, they may have the different way to do things or provide feedback, as a leader, you need to not just listen to what’s being said, more importantly, what’s not being said. Speaking the unspeakable. This is a dilemma that haunts corporate in many cultures. How do you tell the emperor that he has no clothes on?

Group thinking is often caused by the homogeneous team setting: From the variety of industry studies, group polarization means that a group of people can make a more extreme decision than an individual. You'd think that a group would tend to democratize the diversified viewpoint and to moderate individual points of view. In fact, the opposite often occurs: In a phenomenon known as group polarization (the group of people more often “think the same,”), deliberation can intensify people’s attitudes, leading to more extreme decisions. The homogeneous team setting will make team members more vulnerable to peer pressure, risk avoidance, making biased decisions and sticking to the comfort zone.

Everything has two sides, though the good intention of such group thinking is to avoid conflict and be compliant to the team or business leadership. Overall the term has the negative implication of an anti-digital mind which is opposite to critical thinking and independent thinking. It is a type of culture friction needs to be smoothened for driving towards digital transformation seamlessly.


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