Last week, Sue Spaight (@SueSpaight) wrote a fantastic blog post titled “Being Veruca Salt in a Corporate Culture.” In it she mentions that she took a psych evaluation for one of the companies she worked for and it concluded that she was “too independent and entrepreneurial to function in the confines of a corporate organization.” The point of her post was that she can be a team player but when decisions need to be made she would prefer to make them and move on. She is challenged by notion of “buy-in” from the group.
I personally don’t blame her.
Her post got me thinking a lot about “group dynamics” and “group think” and where those concepts completely fail in a corporate environment.
Group think usually takes on a couple of forms in the corporate environment –the one that Sue briefly described as “buy-in” or getting a “vote” and one that gets people from different areas of the company involved for “fresh perspective.”
The “buy-in” type of group think I have been witness to looks something like this:
A company forms a committee and funnels important decisions through this committee in order to get all discipline areas of the company an equal say in what is being decided. The thought is, if every department is on the same page the company will be more efficient in making their products and the communication will flow throughout the organization more evenly and effectively. Basically the stars will always align and the company will practically be clairvoyant to any problems that my come up.
The reality of this situation is these meetings happen behind closed doors with the heads of all these departments. Chances are they have a ton of other meetings and go from one to the next; so communication does not flow like natural spring water. Departments go about their business to get their work done and there is a host of problems that pop up the company can’t see coming.
This also creates what I call the “communication shelf.” Information from the people doing all the daily work needs to flow up to this committee so they can discuss and make decisions on this information. Then those decisions need to flow up to the “stake holders” or the “owners” to make sure those decisions align with the overall vision of the company and the direction it needs to go in. That direction is communicated back to the committee so they can make sure their decisions line up. That information is suppose to flow from the committee back down to the people actually doing all the work so they understand what tasks are priorities and what needs to get done to accomplish the overall vision.
Unfortunately, the “shelf” holds all the information and most of the time the information stays on the shelf… it doesn’t flow through it very well. And the information that does flow through usually is lost in translation. The shelf is not experts on everything that the workers do, so sometimes they can’t articulate the information provided to the “stake holders” in a manner that makes sense. Then, wrong decisions are made on misrepresented information. Secondly, sometimes the shelf has a hard time explaining the business objectives to the workers and the wrong things are prioritized or products are built that miss the mark because of a wrong read on what is being communicated.
Despite the good intentions of the committee or “shelf” this method of decision making actually grinds progress down to a snail’s pace and it is incredibly hard to move anything forward. This method has also been known to create an incredible amount rework do to the communication gaps. In the end this type of group think becomes incredibly frustrating for a company.
The “fresh perspective” type of group think is rife with problems as well. The premise of this situation is getting people from different areas of the company together to talk about future products or projects that are around the corner in order to get ideas from people who normally aren’t part of the “discovery phase.” The thought is that there is a lot of untapped knowledge in the company and there may be people who have great ideas and never have had a forum to express them.
Unfortunately the group dynamics usually prevents things from getting accomplished. There are vast differences in personality types in these groups and the utopian results the group organizers are looking for rarely occur.
The personas usually break down along these lines:
- The “over eager newbie” who wants to contribute and show their enthusiasm and ideas despite having very little knowledge of what is being discussed.
- The “naysayer” who will try to find issue with every point that is brought up in the group.
- The “silent type” who hates forced participation and refuses to speak up in a group setting.
- The “I don’t get it” who was brought in from HR or accounting who doesn’t have a fundamental understanding of the product or project that is being discussed but wants to learn.
- The “know it all” who will explain how to accomplish every idea in great detail down to the smallest level (Ex: We can just write some code that calls a service to bring back that data).
- The “cheerleader” who tries to get everyone involved by overly encouraging every idea that is presented.
- The “over agreer” who agrees with everyone in the room even if there is opposing views.
This mix of individuals a long with some others come together and try to decide a direction or feature set for products or the overall scope of a project. There is little chance that anything close to that will get accomplished. There too many people involved in this conversation who are incapable of making a decision.
More times than not what comes out of these groups is a watered down version of a recommendation that needs to go up to the “shelf” for a decision. The recommendation gets further watered down by the “shelf” and what is left is something that doesn’t end up benefiting anyone and spent an exorbitant amount of time to get there.
Decision makers are needed. Things move forward in business by people who are willing to stick their neck out and make decisions to do things. Committees and group think is a way for individuals to avoid accountability in a decision that went wrong.