Technology -> Personal Productivity
By: Martin Langham, Practice Leader, Bloor Research
Published: 10th January 2005
Copyright Bloor Research © 2005
A lot of time, ingenuity, and investment are spent producing relevant and timely information for managers but less attention is paid to how you turn this rich feast of information into actions. How do you make a decision? Is it by a logical process; identifying the alternatives and making a decision weighted according to the organisation’s objectives or does a consensus emerge as if by magic? An organisation’s decision making methods are at the heart of its effectiveness.
The first mistake that organisations make is not to identify the critical decisions that they face so decisions go by default. Big decisions, such as the selection of a new piece of information technology, usually follow a formal weighted evaluation approach, but organisations often do not identify many of the other critical choices in strategy and architecture or marketing policy until the consequences of a poor decision are apparent. I am sure that we all have at least one experience of an action initiated without proper examination of its basis because everyone is happy to follow the consensus rather than be a lone dissenting voice.
In 1972, the psychologist Irving Janis coined the term Groupthink to describe the way a group can make bad or irrational decisions. When groupthink occurs, each member of the group attempts to align their opinions to what they believe to be the consensus of the group. The group, incredibly, agrees on an action that each member would consider unwise.
Groupthink tends to occur on committees and in large organisations, and has been cited as contributing to the Vietnam War, the invasion of the Bay of Pigs and the bombing of Hiroshima. A more recent example may be the decision to privatise British Rail.
You can avoid groupthink by placing responsibility and authority for a decision in the hands of a single person who turns to others for advice. The decision and its consequences are their responsibility alone. This person will apply a reality check and will be motivated by their responsibility to take the right decision rather than follow a consensus. One of the most important recommendations of an excellent report published by the UK government "Successful IT: Modernising Government in Action" was that all projects and programmes should identify a Senior Responsible Owner (SRO). The SRO has overall and visible responsibility for delivering the business objectives and benefits of any programme or project.
Another way to reduce groupthink is to give an individual the role of disagreeing with any suggestion presented. When one member of the team has an explicit Devil's Advocate role, there is less stigma in taking a negative stance. Intelligently argued opposition makes it more likely that other individuals will present their own ideas more carefully and be comfortable pointing out flaws in other's ideas. A third way to counter groupthink is to use anonymous feedback via a suggestion box or an online chatroom. People can raise negative or dissenting views of proposals anonymously without harming the cohesiveness and social capital of the group. Collaborative workspaces are an excellent way of implementing this.
As we all start back to work after the New Year, one of our resolutions should be to take action to improve the quality of our decision making, nothing will benefit the organisation and our own careers more.
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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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