Groupthink Kills Collaboration!

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By Holger Reisinger

Some of the biggest blunders in history – both corporate and otherwise – can be attributed to the concept of groupthink. Along with new research on the topic come practical new tips for keeping it out of your decision making processes.

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Have you ever run across a corporate decision that seemed so mind-boggling that you shook your head and wondered, “What were they thinking?”

Me too.

In many cases, those head-scratcher decisions were brought on by the concept of groupthink. That’s what happens when otherwise intelligent individuals feel pressured to conform to the views expressed by influencers. Members hesitate to voice concerns for fear of being ridiculed, and, in the absence of dissent, assume all others approve of the decisions being made.

Perhaps the most colossal marketing failure ever, Coca-Cola’s launch of New Coke in the mid-1980s, was in large part due to groupthink. More recently, the global banking crisis of 2008 was triggered by an epic pattern of groupthink.

But groupthink isn’t just limited to large-scale corporate decisions. Smaller ones – such as buying software, introducing a new product or even hiring a new employee – can fall victim to it as well.

And that worries me. In a flat global organization, productive collaboration and collective decision making are key. When you consider how many collaborative decisions a company makes every day, the potential for some, or many, to become infected with groupthink is staggering. This could distort the depicted benefits of the collaborative movement!

New Research—and Reasons to be Wary

Although the concept of groupthink has been around for decades, some new – and perhaps worrisome – thinking has emerged in a book, “Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter,” by Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard University.

The book argues that a group’s deliberation process actually tends to amplify, instead of correct, mistakes. Worse, while debating an issue, the group will eventually stake out an even more extreme position than it adopted initially by focusing on information that supports its point of view and ignoring contradictory information.

The result, as we all know, is a lousy decision.

So how do we avoid the scourge of groupthink in our collaborative decisions? Fortunately, the book provides a few insights, which I plan to use during my next decision making session.

  • Focus on the right things. Make certain that the collaborating team is focused on answering the right question or solving the right problem. Before finalizing your decision, go back and review the original problem you were asked to solve.
  • Don’t speak; listen! Strong-willed opinion leaders are too often the cause of groupthink. During group discussions, people should devote at least 80% of their time listening and observing and just 20% speaking.
  • Encourage other perspectives. The group must adopt a mindset that strongly encourages team members to express a diversity of perspectives, especially principled dissent.
  • Don’t rely on just “some” of the information. When gathering information to make a decision, be sure you consult all relevant sources and share all data collected with the Group.
  • Divide tasks based on expertise. When dividing up duties, assign tasks to those best-qualified based on their knowledge, experience and judgment.
  • Seek out disagreement. Use a “devil’s advocate” approach when scrutinizing each option you’re studying. When you’ve settled on one, appoint one or more team members or bring in an independent “red team” to challenge your decision.

Let’s face it: Decisions made on group level are never easy. And they’re even less so when it has been overtaken by groupthink. Knowing what groupthink is and how to avoid it can help us meet the potential of the collective and increase the productivity of collaboration.

3 types of knowledge workers (and what headsets they need)

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It wasn’t long ago that new employees would receive a desk phone and a voicemail password when they first started. While traveling, they’d use payphones and hotel phones with prepaid phone cards. Times sure have changed.

Office workers

Today, knowledge workers have seemingly endless options when it comes to communications. They join Skype conferences on their desktop, online meetings on their cell phones, and make calls using their Bluetooth headsets. So, then, what do today’s businesses give their employees instead of the good old desk phone? And how do they decide which employee gets which tools? Continue reading

The Secret to Productive Collaboration

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By Holger Reisinger

Forget the business books and management gurus. The answer may instead lie in the business practices of a 19th century industrialist: hire smart people with a variety of perspectives, turn them loose and get out of the way. 

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I’ve been reading a fascinating book about the legendary U.S. industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. He’s notable for leading the expansion of the U.S. steel industry in the late 1800s, which made him one of the wealthiest people of his time.

What I’ve found interesting is the unique way Carnegie ran his vast corporate enterprise. As he explained: “We have a ‘master mind’ here in our business, and that mind is made up of more than a score of people who constitute my personal staff of superintendents and managers and accountants and chemists and other necessary types. No two minds in the group are exactly alike, but each person in the group does the thing that he is supposed to do and he does it better than any other person in the world could do it.”

OK, so maybe he was a little long-winded. But Carnegie was a master of bringing together smart people with a wide variety of perspectives—and setting them loose on a problem.

That got me wondering if that’s how we solve problems today—and I’m not sure that it is.

The “Master Minds” Vs. the “Usual Suspects”

In my experience, we often tackle a business problem by involving people that we know and are comfortable with. Instead of seeking out varying opinions and personalities, we bring in the “usual suspects,” as one of my colleagues calls them. Sure, they may have some expertise in the matter at hand. But do they represent the best team possible?

Unsure if I was on to something, I explained my theory to a friend who earns a living studying corporate behavior. She confirmed my suspicions and explained the science behind how problem-solving teams are built.

She said that in most cases we involve people based on the strength of our social ties to them. If we know someone well or have had a previous relationship, we have what sociologists call strong social ties—and are thus more likely to collaborate with them. If we don’t know them well, we have weak social ties and are less likely to include them.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with inviting familiar colleagues to join in on the problem solving. But by focusing only on strong social ties, we miss out on the differing perspectives and critical expertise those with weak ties can offer. These insights could be the difference between a successful business idea and a failed one.

Creating a Better Collaborative Culture

So how do you foster productive collaboration with “master minds” and not just the “usual suspects”? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Identify the problem. Take a hard look at the problem you need to address and determine the specific knowledge you will require to resolve it.
  • Cast a wide net. Based on your assessment, begin reaching out in your network to address the issue you’ve identified. Ignore job titles and instead focus on recruiting workers with the skills and competencies to solve problems. Strive for as wide an array of backgrounds, opinions, job responsibilities and tenure at the organization as possible.
  • Get recommendations. Of course, the previous suggestion raises an obvious issue: How to identify those weak ties who may nevertheless be critical to your team? The answer, my friend says, is to request recommendations from colleagues. Don’t be afraid to ask, for example, “Can you recommend a marketing person who has finance experience?”

The next time you’re put in charge of resolving a business problem, take a page from one of the wealthiest men in history. It probably won’t make you a billionaire, but it could make you a hero around the office.

Wind noise reduction in Bluetooth mono headsets: How it works.

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by  Daniel Gniazdo

Talking on a headset is rarely a problem when you’re outside on a calm, sunny day. But if you’re out in heavy wind, things get trickier. In most cases, people you talk to can barely hear you, or you end up sounding like a dying robot sending out an SOS.

Jabra Storm behind-the-ear Bluetooth headset

If you live in a windy city (not limited to Chicago) or use your headset on the road, you’ll come across this problem often. That’s why some Bluetooth mono headsets offer wind noise reduction. But what is this wind noise reduction all about and how does it happen? Continue reading

That’s It… I’m Finished – With Meetings, That Is

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By Holger Reisinger

Meetings are the corporate get-togethers we all love to hate. For every productive one, it seems there’s at least one or more that are a complete waste of time. Here’s how you can reduce the number of meetings you need to attend.

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Remember the infamous bar scene in the original Star Wars movie? I recently had an experience that seemed eerily similar. Only I wasn’t in a seedy nightclub and the clientele weren’t aliens. Instead, I was in a business meeting and the characters were business professionals.

That incident has led me to be more choosy about the meetings I attend, if not swear off many altogether.

I’d agreed to attend the meeting even though its description had been somewhat fuzzy, which should have been a red flag. The meeting began on time, but it soon became clear that it had no agenda and even less focus. It quickly veered off into topics unrelated to the vague description provided earlier.

I guess that shouldn’t have been a surprise based on the appalling behavior many participants exhibited. Some whiled away the time on their smartphones, sending and responding to emails – even checking Facebook. Others conducted side conversations. A couple others snacked.

When the meeting mercifully ended, we had accomplished nothing, and I couldn’t help but shudder at the time we had wasted. That got me wondering how much time companies spend in meetings—and how much of it is unproductive.

We’re Wasting Too Much Time and Money

Bain & Company, a respected management consulting firm, found that 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings, a number that has steadily increased since 2008. Senior executives spend more than 40% of their time – two full days a week—in meetings with three or more coworkers. And many meetings, Bain found, are often scheduled “just because.”

All these meetings come with a staggering price. Companies in the U.S. alone waste more than $37 billion in salary costs related to unnecessary meetings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Later, as I replayed the experience in my mind, I became angry – mostly at myself for being lured into such an unproductive venture. I resolved to be more careful about the meetings I attend.

So here is some unsolicited advice for anyone who wants to invite me (or anyone else, for that matter) to a business meeting:

  1. Think hard before you punch the Invite button.

Outlook makes it easy – maybe too easy – to send a meeting notice. Before you organize a meeting, ask yourself: Does this absolutely require a meeting? You may find that you can accomplish the goal by making a few phone calls or sending an IM or two.

  1. Save “the more the merrier” for parties, not business meetings.

If you do need to organize a meeting, ask: Which people absolutely need to attend? Invite only those whose presence is vital to resolving the issue at hand.

  1. Tell me why I need to attend.

In your meeting invitation, clearly explain why you’re calling the meeting, why attendees’ presence is needed and what you expect to accomplish. Invite attendees to opt out if they don’t feel they can contribute in a meaningful way.

  1. Sweat the details.

Meetings don’t run themselves. Conducting a good one means getting the details right: Have a clear meeting agenda. If reading is required, send the materials upfront. Keep the meeting focused and start and end on time. And if participants aren’t paying full attention, demand that they do so.

My time is too valuable to waste on unnecessary, unproductive business meetings—and so is yours. I’ve learned my lesson. If I receive a meeting request that doesn’t meet the four criteria above, I’ll refuse to attend.

I invite you to do the same.

Collaboration – from the pyramids to the moon landing

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By Holger Reisinger

Every time you return a call from a co-worker, discuss a project with a colleague or conduct a teleconference, you’re participating in an activity that has been moving civilization forward since the beginning of time. But what is collaboration really—and why is it now more important than ever?

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I just watched a fascinating video that got me thinking about how we as people work together to solve problems and improve our world. Continue reading

Call center headset reviews: What to look for

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by  Daniel Gniazdo

When you’re looking for a call center headset, you’re likely to check out a few reviews to help you make up your mind. Finding the reviews shouldn’t be a problem. Google wasn’t invented yesterday. But it helps to have a better idea of what you really want from a headset to know what to look for in call center headset reviews.

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With that in mind, here are some questions you may ask before reading the reviews: Continue reading

Call quality matters in a wireless world

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The business world was once dominated by enterprise applications on dedicated servers and fixed-line desk phones. Now, this world is rapidly becoming cloud-based, wireless, and mobile. When it comes to unified communications, businesses have more options than ever before.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for people to communicate and work together. Be it voice or video calls, business people expect to be able to connect whenever and wherever they want, on whatever device, and on their own terms. And they expect their calls to always sound perfect, too. Continue reading