IMD Leadership and Organisational Behaviour professor Shlomo Ben-Hur writes in the IMD newsletter about how even the most able top teams can make disastrous collective decisions. The description of "a camel as a horse designed by committee" has been around for a long time mocking the results of team decision-making. Prof Ben-Hur however points to more real and damaging occasions - specifically the failure of bank boards to protect their businesses from the excesses that lead to the financial crisis.
Ben-Hur focuses on the issue of "Groupthink" as leading teams to become less objective and critical in a drive to reach a workable conclusion to challenges.
"Research has shown that it is entirely natural for decision-making groups, whatever their motivations and guidelines, to tend to suppress information flow, have more extreme attitudes, make more extreme judgements, and are less flexible in adapting their approach to changing circumstances, and – amazingly despite all this – have greater confidence in their decisions. This assessment is not a reflection on individual ability or motivation, but is due to natural group dynamics"
He offers to potential solutions. A process solution where critical issues are viewed by two teams not one; where a "devil's advocate" is appointed to force debate etc. The second suggestion is:
"... insight solutions. These are solutions that focus more on helping decision-making teams to understand how they make decisions and the politics and biases involved. The ultimate goal is to help teams improve their decision-making process."
He refers to Chris Argyris's work in "surfacing congintive biases". Getting senior teams to analyse their own thought methodologies is a task that Prof Ben-Hur has not indicated a solution for - but there is a growing body of opinion that confirms that this is how challenges that have reputational or far-reaching consequences should be dealt with. Otto Scharmer at MIT and the Presencing Institute have evolved a methodology that pursues the same goals as Argyris.
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