As agile practitioners we are always looking out for the best interest of all stakeholders. We understand that the team is self-managing, self-organizing, self-(fill-in-the-blank…). Apart from being aware of the values and principles that make up the agile manifesto, we are also concerned that as human beings we have an unlimited propensity toward certain truths and abilities, but our ability to engage in antipatterns is somewhat limitless. Enter the antagonizing concept Groupthink. Notice it’s not spelled in 2 separate words or no hyphen to merit their joining. At first we may think there’s nothing to be concerned about this term, but with further investigation we realize that it’s not something you’d want for your agile team.
What is Groupthink?
Groupthink is defined as the consensus or directions that a group of people take when faced with a decision. It stems from anything on the fear spectrum such as intimidation, or even just plain indifference. When stemmed from intimidation, the minority members may feel like they would need to agree with the majority so they could “fit in” or avoid being reprimanded. The proponent of such actions don’t appear to be so much about “ego building” but rather about “saving face.”
What Are the Dangers of Groupthink?
Therein lies the dangers of antipatterns what we have on a day-to-day. The old adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” rings in. How this happens to some extent is not necessarily with that one decision made on a particular day or particular week, but actually many decisions over many weeks, months, or even years. According to the Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Groupthink brings about the following inherent symptoms:
- Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
- Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
- Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
- Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
- Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
- Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
- Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
- Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.
Does an Agile Mindset Prevent Groupthink?
Does removing a wrong statement from research make it right? This is the type of question we need to ask ourselves when we are on the path of continuous improvement. If we remove what is wrong in any environment, we could forget that it was identified later on. It is sort of like removing pages history from our past. We may likely repeat this behavior. Verbalizing would definitely be a start, either through a work-session, or by documenting it at some point. When something is verbalized by either an individual alone, or by a group of people, there is a process of recognition that builds concensus and buy-in. This is a very important of component of practicing with an agile mindset along with the concept of transparency. We need to be cognizant that we all know what we are agreeing to, or better yet we are not tricking ourselves to fit the ideals of our own personal agendas, principles or motives. We are looking at the bigger picture and are aware that we all collectively are deciding, committing, and taking the responsibility of those decisions.
One of the most important elements in agile processes, commonly held in the Retrospectives, is that it helps promote the feedback loop and putting all cards on the table about the direction the team is taking. That is not to say that feedback does not occur in a daily standup, sprint demo, or sprint planning as well. The empirical processes of transparency should prevent Groupthink only to the extent that the team is willing to admit they are heading in the right direction, i.e. the team members could still all willingly pave the road to detriment if they so choose. But only difference would be that at least everyone knows they all agreed to it. When we have Groupthink, there is some obscurity about the true direction the team may be taking, in most cases transparency is intentionally hidden so that the issues and concerns will not likely come to light.
[Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]