A Simple Way to Avoid Group Think

Posted 09.22.2010

Penguins Have you ever been in a group problem solving session that ended too soon? Your immediate response to that question may be, “How could any meeting end too soon? I spend too much time in meetings as it is, so the shorter the better.”  I’m with you. In most organizations, there are so many meetings that actual productivity suffers. (For ideas on how to deal with that, check out this recent post.)

Here’s what I mean, though, by a problem solving session that ended too soon. The way you know it ended too soon is when whatever solution that was agreed upon is ineffective at best or blows up in everyone’s face at worst. The root cause of that outcome is often because teams don’t spend enough time considering alternatives before arriving at a decision and they ignore the impact of their decision on the different stakeholders involved.

Group think is on my mind this week because I’m getting ready to coach a leadership team in an offsite tomorrow. As prep for the meeting, everyone has completed the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  At this point, it seems like every manager and leader in private and public sector America has taken the MBTI at least once. My complaint with it is it’s often used like an interesting party game – a source of entertainment, but not much practical application. I’m going to use it with this leadership team to point out what their “go-to” moves are from a problem solving and decision making standpoint and what they’re likely to overlook and ignore. If they’re like a lot of leadership teams I’ve worked with, they’re going to be long on facts and analysis and short on generating alternatives and considering the impact of their decisions.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to round out the group problem solving process so that all of the bases are touched.  Without getting into the ins and outs of the Myers-Briggs, here’s how it works:

If you’re the leader of the decision making or problem solving session, make it clear that you want to use a simple process to make sure that the best possible solution is developed. Make sure that everyone contributes by responding to some simple questions in four key areas:

  What’s the current situation? What have we learned from experience?  What data do we have? What are we doing that’s working?

  What patterns do we see in the data? What are we trying to do in the long run?  What are the different options we have? (Come up with at least three answers to that last question.)

ANALYSIS:  What are the criteria for making a decision? What are the pros and cons of the different alternatives?  What does logic dictate?  What are the measures of success?

IMPACT:  Which individuals or groups have a stake in this? What do we know about what they think, feel and want? What’s the best approach for engaging and collaborating with them?  What’s the communications game plan?

There’s an old saying that you’ve got to go slow to go fast. A decision making process like this one might seem like it takes too much time. My actual experience with it is that meetings go faster and are more productive when there’s a clear process and everyone sticks with it.

What’s your experience? What do you do to avoid group think? What else works?