Saturday, September 5, 2009

Groupthink in Scrum Teams


How do you combat this known dysfunction of a group in Scrum teams?

Groupthink is defined best I think by Irving Janis, who studied it's effects in the Bay of Pigs invasion, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the escalation of the Vietnam War.

Groupthink - A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.
- Irving Janis. Victims of Groupthink. 1972, p. 9.
President Kennedy's thigh-knit group got caught up in groupthink, but learned their lesson and changed their group-decision making process by the time they dealt with the Cuban missile crises. A small proof of a learning organization.

Did President Bush's group learn there groupthink lessons?

Janis gives 8 indicators of groupthink:
  • Invulnerability - many members of the ingroup have an illusion of invulnerability.
  • Rationale - they rationalize away warnings and other negative feedback.
  • Morality - they have a belief in inherent morality on their side.
  • Stereotypes - they hold stereotyped views of opposing groups leadership.
  • Pressure - they apply direct pressure to any dissenting individual.
  • Self-censorship - they avoid deviating from group consensus.
  • Unanimity - they share an illusion of unanimity.
  • Mindguards - they appoint themselves as guards to protect the leader from adverse information.
Janis has some recommendation on the remedies for groupthink:

  • assign the role of critical evaluator to each member & reinforced by leader's actions
  • leaders should adopt an impartial stance at beginning
  • set-based design; separate groups working the same issue
  • require members to discuss with their associates
  • outside experts invited to challenge the views
  • assign a devil's advocate for general evaluations
  • devote a sizable block of time to rival orgs. responses & warning signals
  • subdivide the group to work under different chairpersons
  • hold a second-chance meeting - encourage doubts to be rasied
Janis warns of the disadvantages that these remedies may bring about, i.e. prolonged debates, rejection, anger, power struggles, etc. However the history tells us that we make big, HUGE mistakes (like looking for WMD in the sand) when we allow ourselves the luxury of groupthink. So putting in place a few checks and balances would be very prudent - don't you think?
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