The continuous process improvement field is inundated with articles and practices touting the benefits of working with cross-functional teams. The TLS Continuum methodology is based on the input of various views as to possible solutions to the problems facing organizations. But there is a downside to this effort to arrive at consensus on potential solutions to these very problems. That downside is groupthink.
What do we mean by the term groupthink? Irving Janis tells us that groupthink occurs when the pressures of the organization force the group to ignore any and all alternative solutions. Janis also has documented eight symptoms of groupthink. A further consideration of these symptoms is necessary at this point of the discussion.
Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
The team as a whole believes that everything is going to be fine so that what they do holds no risk for the organization. We saw some of this in TQM and Atarimae Hunshitsu (Atar-i-mae Hun-shit-su) which is Japanese for the belief that in the long run everything will as it is supposed to. We see this when the organization, despite customer complaints say everything is all right we just will do better next time.
Collective rationalizations – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
Usually in every group there is some one who expresses the voice of responsibility. However in groupthink they are ignored or given a lower view of importance. When confronted with the dire warnings their response is we have everything covered and proceed as they were planning on doing.
Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
In groupthink the team members never consider the affects of their actions. They see the problem, they feel the problem but their decisions in the way of solutions do not take into consideration of the ramifications of their decisions not only on each other but also on the organization as a whole and their customers in the long run.
Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
John Smith is not part of the cross-functional team but expresses some views about the problems being addressed but the group considers them to be counterproductive in trying to find the proper solution so the views are written off.
Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
Ever watch the courtroom film in where the jury is trying to make a decision? Have you ever observed in real life when you have been called for jury duty and the rest of the jury pool has seemed to arrive at a decision but you disagree with the route they are going? The tendency is to pressure those with other views not to go rock the boat.
Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
The result of #5 is that the members of the team learn to keep their views to themselves if they go against the rest of the group. Points of view that might be valid are swept under the table to make things “easier” for the group.
Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
One of the major problems with groupthink is that we are handed the view that everyone agrees with the decisions even if there were other more viable solutions.
Self-appointed ‘mind guards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.
The goal is to find reasonable and viable solutions to the problems at hand. At the same time the group wants to protect their own. They fear that a failed solution will come back to hurt the team. The result is that any information that affects the success of the team is removed from view.
The success of any cross-functional team is dependent on the realization of a viable solution or solutions for the problem at hand. That success is jeopardized when the cross-functional team and management allow groupthink to enter the picture. Take precautions to avoid these conditions and you will reach greater success in your continuous process improvement efforts.