16 February 2021
General key issues with groupthink
- We like to think groups make us better decision makers;
- But that doesn’t always happen in practice.
- Groups become overconfident, and that holds us back.
Features of groupthink in a virtual setting
- Self-censorship: hard to speak up and challenge the consensus. Even more difficult in a virtual world. Can be hard to stay focused, stay on task and challenge a dominant personality.
- It’s a time where everybody wants to get along, so people are striving for group cohesion, which is good in some ways, but presents a risk in terms of groupthink.
- Conflict: there is good and bad conflict but we need some conflict to challenge biases. Task conflict (productive) vs relationship conflict (divisive).
- It is hard to read the room, task conflict can easily jump the gap into perceived relationship conflict.
- There's also the concept of hidden information: people not speaking up and sharing experiences, or not sharing data that is relevant.
- More often than not, it’s not raising something that they don’t think is relevant as “everyone knows it.” People are more hesitant to share in a virtual setting.
- It's important to avoid scapegoating, where we discount certain people.
Best practice for good decision-making
- It needs to be collaborative.
- It can be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security through false consensus, it’s rarely the case that everyone agrees.
- A little bit of “conflict” is the sign of a good discussion.
- Having a diverse group, diversity of thought and diversity of lived experience is important.
- Think about decision making as a process:
- Making sure everyone is aware of biases and has training on biases and groupthink;
- Having independent people around table;
- Maintaining neutral facilitation;
- Have enough time to make a decision.
- Institute of Actuaries research on biases in trustee making.
- Trustees are as biased as anyone.
- How we present and frame questions is important.
- Overconfidence can exacerbate biases.
Which risks are most prevalent in a virtual world?
- Speaking up and challenging.
- Focus – distractions in a virtual world get in the way of the challenge.
- One advantage is sitting at home is that people can google something if they don’t understand. However, it does come with other issues.
Other key points
- Zoe’s piece on Zoomthink in Vista.
- In a virtual meeting it is often hard to return to something if the discussion has been moved on. In person the little cues help to stop that happening. Use of 'raise hand' features etc can help – plus good facilitation.
- The dynamic of the size of the meeting – if this goes beyond a certain size, less people contribute. Plus the physical dynamic of coming off mute etc makes interaction more clunky.
- The ability to read a room is completely absent as you can’t see if people are confused/ happy/in agreement etc.
- It is even harder if people are asked to turn their videos off due to bandwidth issues.
- Transactional vs relational.
- A lot of big decisions don’t happen all at once as little conversations and discussions build up to them.
- Losing the informal conversation around the journey to get to a big decision brings biases into play: we don’t like to stop a decision once we are moving in a direction. People don’t want to be seen to waste time. That’s a risk in the virtual world, could get quite far down a line.
- Encouraging an open debate/challenge at every stage is key.
- Maybe moving away from infrequent 'big-bang' meetings and a more ongoing collaborative sequence of meetings is a better structure.
- We need to create as many opportunities as possible for objections along the way.
- There is no reason to follow the same infrequent, long meetings structure that we did when people had to travel. Little and often helps the environment of challenge and works better. Creating things like informal coffee breaks, time to go away and think about something is more productive.
- The importance of keeping those informal phases of meetings going.
- The focus needs to be on giving people the opportunity to ask those questions that they might be afraid to ask in a group setting. An informal access to advisers is important.
- The sense of responsibility is different sitting at home (in slippers!), as it takes some of the weight off the decision and responsibility which could be bad. However it can also take away some of the biases that come from intense pressure. It’s a double edged sword.
Top tips for remote meetings
- Encouraging more informal time in the right way;
- More one to one catch up's – decision makers and stakeholders have access to advisers;
- Break decisions down into smaller chunks, but be clear that’s what you are doing;
- Focus on time management, take breaks;
- Use the functionality that exists;
- Encourage challenge and;
- Encourage people to speak up, even of positive affirmation.
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