The Best Business Fairy-tale
We all know the fairy tales we read as children contain lessons for life, and one of the best for business leaders is Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. If you’re not familiar with the tale, here is classic Danny Kaye telling (or rather singing) the story.
What occurs is a leader publicly exposing himself with only a child having the courage to speak up. It is an excellent example of what is called ‘Groupthink’ a phrase created by psychologist Irving Janis in 1972.
If you’ve ever thought about speaking up in a meeting but didn’t because you didn’t want to appear to be against the groups’ efforts – that’s Groupthink.
If you’ve been in a meeting or part of a team that you felt people weren’t honest with their opinions – that’s Groupthink.
Groupthink is a situation where the desire for group consensus out-weights an individual’s desire to present alternatives, critique an idea or express an unpopular opinion. The result is often that the decision making process becomes flawed.
Symptoms of Groupthink include:
- Rationalisation: The group convinces itself that it can disregard evidence that doesn’t support its decision.
- Peer Pressure: A person who presents an alternative view to the groups is pressured into compliance.
- Complacency: A few successes lead the team to think that they can’t go wrong.
- Moral High Ground: Each individual considers that they are moral, as a group they will then certainly make moral decisions. Anyone who doesn’t agree risks being seen as immoral.
- Stereotyping: Outsiders are seen as different and inferior and these perceived characteristics are used to discredit the opposition.
- Censorship: Individual opinions are censored in order to conform
- Illusions of Unanimity – as no one speaks out it’s assumed the decision is unanimous.
If you experience Groupthink or are leading a group or organisation that does you might try the following:
- Have a decision making process that explores objectives, alternatives, encourages ideas to be challenged, examines risks, gathers information from outside the group and processes all these items objectively.
- Discuss what Groupthink is in the group and make it clear that you want people to express themselves without fear of reprisal.
- Consider what role you’re playing: Are you the Emperor, the subjects or the child?
A final word from Danny Kaye as “Giacomo, King of Jesters and Jester of Kings”…
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