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Executives Need Advice Published: Sunday, June 9, 2002 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Indeed, leaders, executives and professional need information on the impact of their decisions and actions on forces around them. The conventional logic, which is very dangerous, is that they set up a special intelligence gathering unit, staff it with sophisticated professionals, establish a team of top executives to receive the research estimates, and wait for the facts to start rolling on.

Academic research, clearly points to the many examples where this type of system easily breaks down. Thus, there is a great institutional need to overcome the condition of what Irving Janis calls groupthink. This is an emphasis upon group cohesiveness and individual concurrence with group beliefs in decision making and intelligence gathering (as opposed to advocacy, debate and daring to speak truth to power in a constructive way) which results in the deterioration of the group’s ability to test, understand reality, weigh risk, make critical decisions and exercise normative or value judgement.

There are eight major synthoms characterize groupthink or concurrence seeking tendency as it prevails within many organizational settings. (1) An illusion of invulnerability, shared by most or all of the members, which create excessive optimism and encourages taking extreme risks. (2) Collective effort to rationalize in order to discount warnings which my lead the members to reconsider their assumptions before they recommit themselves to their past strategies or policy decisions. (3) An unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent subjective correctiveness, then ignoring normative consequences of their decisions. (4) Stereotyped view of rivals and enemies, thus rejecting any possibility to negotiate, or as to weak to counter whatever risky attempts are made to defeat their purposes. (5) Direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of group’s stereotypes or illusions, making clear that dissent is contrary to what is expected of loyal members. (6) Self-censorship of deviations from the apparent group consensus making members to minimize the importance of his/her doubts and counter arguments. (7) A shared illusion of unanimity partly resulting from self-censorship and by the false assumption that silence implies consent. (8) The emergence of self-appointed “mindguards” as people who protect the leader and the group from adverse information or different advice that might alter their shared complacency about the correctives of their decisions.

Irving Janis, Allison Graham and Harold Wilensky share on nine strategies or standard operating procedures for leaders in order to counter act the conditions that make for this shared pattern of defensive avoidance. (1) Act impartial instead of stating preferences at the outset. (2) Assign the role of critical thinker to each member. (3) Assign the role of devil’s advocate to an external member. (4) Divide the group into subgroup and then rejoin to share differences in perspective. (5) Spend time to ponder all warning systems and construct alternative scenarios. (6) Challenge initial consensus and rethink the entire issue. (7) Bring expertise and advice for reflecting on the group’s opinions. (8) Shared with other trusted associates from different organizational levels. (9) Have independent groups to work with other trusted associates from different organizational levels. (9) Have independent groups to work with the same policy issues.

The purpose is to eliminate defensive avoidance and other sources of error.


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