Tuesday, 16 April 2019

The Dangers of "Group Think"

I’m reading a fascinating book by Richard de Crespigny, captain of Qantas flight QF 32 from Singapore to Sydney on 4thNovember 2010 which nearly became one of the world’s worst air disasters with 469 people on board.

Apart from a riveting story, one of Captain de Crespigny’s comments was:

It is even more common for ‘group think’ syndrome to take hold, where individuals who detect faults fail to expose them because they believe the group is more intelligent and more correct. The ‘group think’ problem is remarkably prevalent in crews augmented with management and checking captains, because junior pilots feel intimidated.

This highlights something which I (and, I’m sure, others) have experienced.  We’re in a group of people (some of whom may be more “senior” to us) and we notice something that we think may be going wrong.  Question: do we say something, and risk being slapped down or (at the very least) made fun of or do we keep quiet?

In the aviation world, where safety is paramount, the answer is simple: you speak up.

In one of the local oil companies in this country, they encourage(if not demand) that you speak up if a potential danger is spotted and thank youfor doing so!  The person who made the best report actually over the year gets officially recognised as well.

In other cultures, however, the convention is not to say anything because we might cause offence or “loss of face” to the senior person or persons.  Worse, they may think we’re trying to show how clever we are. Whatever happens, we’ll be in hot water, so better to keep quiet and, if something doesgo wrong, blame the seniors who “should have known”.

Do we as a leader encourage group think or speaking up (whatever the consequences) if there’s a problem?  If we work in a culture where group think is the norm. how can we encourage others to speak up?

A leader who encourages “yes men” ends up surrounded by people with nothing to say.

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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