Thinking No, Saying Yes–Groupthink in Action

July 4, 2016

Thinking No, Saying Yes-Groupthink in Action

You work in a large document shredding company. The company needs a new strategic direction because businesses now post confidential documents to secure sites. The President’s note to staff asked for out-of-the-box ideas.

Your chance for profile

Your Director was attending these meetings but the baby came early and you`re her replacement. You have a great idea you can`t wait to table.

Everybody at the meeting is more senior than you. It’s a bit daunting but also an ideal opportunity to get air time in front of managers who could promote you. The Director of Ops, Jeff, is chairing.

The first groupthink technique

Jeff: Let’s get started. Welcome, Steph. At the last meeting, we pretty much agreed to a new fleet of trucks to pick up both recycling and documents for shredding.
Somebody: Yeah, the way to go.
(general murmur of agreement)

You speak up

But you happen to be looking at Max, the only person you know, who has a troubled look and isn’t nodding. Makes you think that maybe it isn’t a done deal.

You: There might be another option. The company already has the confidence of its clients. Why not a new business to wipe hard drives?
Black-framed glasses: Steph, interesting but we have to build on our strengths, not venture into a whole new business.
You: But the President wants out-of-the-box ideas.

You are shot down

Black frames: Out-of-the-box, but not off the planet. Why ignore our strengths?
You: But a strength is the confidence of our customers.
Jeff: Can’t take that to the bank. You gonna lay off a whole fleet of truck drivers for some pipe dream?
You: (lamely ) It’s just to give the Executive Committee another option.

More groupthink

Jeff: I think we can agree any recommendations must protect people’s jobs as much as possible.
Somebody: We can’t lay people off, not in this economy.
(You look at Max. He’s checking his mail.)
Jeff: I think we can take a vote. Do we recommend branching into recycling? Show of hands?

Your vote

Black-framed’s hand goes up immediately and is followed by most people. You have a sudden doubt. You hadn’t thought about lay-offs and maybe the Executive wants to protect jobs. Maybe the group`s right. More hands go up. Max puts his hand up, too! You’re the last. You raise your hand.

“That’s what I like to see,” says Jeff. “A real consensus.”

Did you fail?

As the meeting breaks up, Max comes over.

Max: How’s Melanie? Give her my best.
You: Ah, can I ask you something?
Max: Sure.
You: Ah, I didn’t do a good job presenting my idea. Or maybe it wasn’t a good one anyhow—the group didn’t think so.
Max: But you were right—the President wanted out-of-the-box and he’s getting the status quo tweaked a little.
You: But if you didn’t agree, how come you voted for it?
Max: Steph, when you’ve been around as long as I have, you learn to go with the flow. No point in bucking the trend and making enemies.

You walk slowly out of the conference room, feeling vaguely bad.

Why do you feel bad? Because your idea wasn’t adopted? Or was something else going on? I think there was and that’s the next post.

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