Group Delusion

Group Delusion

December 18th, 2011 // 10:54 am @

There are in companies as in life, relatively few truly important decisions. Understanding which decisions are the important ones and making sure they are answered correctly is critical to the success of any enterprise.

Human nature however does not naturally do well with making the really big decisions, or even admitting their existence. We will delude even ourselves to avoid facing up to decisions, which scare us.

When groups of people get together to discuss a major issue, there is a tendency not to really tackle or even clearly identify the really important issue. The big scary decisions tend not to be immediate problems, but ones that are some way in the future, giving us space to avoid facing up to them, even though acting early can be a huge assistance in dealing with the problem. The human brain is scared of the truly big issues of life and will go to significant lengths to avoid even acknowledging their existence, let alone dealing with them.

The danger to this delaying of decisions is the longer it is left the less time there is to act to deal with the issue, and what may have been a solvable issue becomes too easily a crisis.

The group dynamic can encourage this tendency, with people reassuring themselves and the group that they should focus on some closer, smaller and less scary issue.

Leadership is at this point necessary, not to dictate an answer to the question but to make sure the group remains focused on the real issue.

If the group can be kept focused on the real issue, then the group tendency becomes to make a “Consensus Decision” this is when a decision is made within the room that everyone can live with, but not one that necessarily deals with the real issue. At the end of such meetings everyone feels good, there is a sense of achievement that a decision was reached that everyone in the room could buy into. It is only later it becomes clear the decision did not deal with the real issue.

The recent meeting of Euro Zone Leaders was a great example. At the end of a marathon negotiation session they were tripping over each other to congratulate themselves on this “Comprehensive Solution to the Euro Crisis”.

It took only hours for people who had not been part of the meeting to understand the plan would not work. The leaders of the Euro Zone countries are clever people but they fell into the meeting syndrome, of coming up with a consensus not a solution.

This is again where true leadership can be critical, at keeping the group focused on the reality of the issue. Love her or hate her had Margret Thatcher been in the room, the meeting would have likely faced the reality.

Leadership in such situations needs intelligence, insight and courage. Pointing out the reality of a difficult situation rarely makes one popular. It is much easier to tell people the big scary issue does not exist, and let them focus on something simple and less scary.

True leadership is critical for countries and companies, and is sadly missing in many of both.

Category : Blog &Leadership

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