Group Think – A Risk to a Good Leadership Team

In a classic 1982 book, Groupthink by Irving L. Janis, (meaning it was fresh off the presses for me to study in college in 1984.)  Janis helped all of us see one pitfall in team work.

One example always stayed with me, Kennedy showed up as President thinking he and his people were pretty smart. They were. They then made a foolish and harmful decision in the Bay of Pigs and left our friends to die and be imprisoned on that beach.

Eighteen months later, those same men with Kennedy, with more humility perhaps, created the prefect policy to resolve a Gordian knot type of a problem in the Cuban missile crisis..  They made a key cognitive leap and overcame the Soviets in that case.

Why did these smart men make a foolish error that my 9 year old would have avoided in one case and prove genius in their insight just a few months later?

The records showed that in the Bay of Pigs decision, they had Hubris which is described in the excellent though unpopular Jim Collin’s book, How the Mighty Fall. More simply put, they were too proud. They were a good team that could talk about issues, but they were overconfident and so not willing to believe they could fail.

The group, and especially Kennedy, wanted consensus so key people did not express doubts to maintain false unity.  Some people in the group actively encouraged full support as the decision got close. President Kennedy brought in a dissenter to give the opposing view and then quietly avoided any discussion of what that guy had said and pushed the most positive guy to state his thought and then alll were afraid to state any objection.  No deep discussion of voiced criticism was ever allowed. Consensus ruled over critical appraisal in that critical 3 month long discussion.

Finally, secrecy was so emphasized that opposition could not develop as they did not have the information. The Bay of Pigs was the result.

Lets look at good process and decision making tomorrow

Social Sharing

Posted in: Decision Making, Leadership

Leave a Comment (0) ↓

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.