Monday, August 25, 2014

Groups, Bureaucracy and Leadership

I can't believe it. One of the most used group-based problem-solving and strategizing tools has been slandered. We've all used brainstorming sessions: many good, some bad when people can't stop judging others' ideas. We've participated in role-playing sessions where we're taught that often groups will come up with better solutions than individuals.

Then we have Susan Cain, author of Quiet, advocating for all of the introverts in the world. According to her, we need to stop the madness of group work and create hybrids. An example would be stopping meetings periodically to allow participants to reflect on the issue on their own and then regroup.

Business must be insane to keep using a tool that has been shown to be ineffective: brainstorming. In fact, brainstorming has been repudiated since 1958. Why do we keep using it? Why is it continually taught in Six Sigma certification classes? Brainstorming's ineffectiveness focuses on three aspects: social loafing--why put in much effort when there are others to carry the mental load?; social apprehension--not wanting to appear foolish; idea loss--ideas are lost during the waiting time for an individual's term or the idea is self-censored during that time as not being sufficiently different or relevant to the issue at hand. We continue the practice because it seems efficient to gather all of the ideas in one setting, sharing/networking of relevant experience and knowledge, and to gain an expanded, consensual ownership of the solutions, options, strategies. Additionally, we all were taught it, used it and brainstorming sessions have become a tradition and habit. Unfortunately, it's been written into the bureaucracy of our decision-making protocols.

As one executive pointed out at the Global Leadership Summit recently, bureaucracy squashes potential and leadership unleashes potential. Leadership does not equal management. Management is based on bureaucracy and stewardship of available resources within acceptable guidelines. Leadership challenges the status quo--like asking, "Why are we meeting? Why are we brainstorming in this manner?"

As I've pointed out several times, only a few--10%--truly change from detrimental practices. Apparently, that's true of a lot of business courses and methodologies because 95+% of them still promote brainstorming.

Be different. Be a leader. Do something different and get different results. Stop being insane.

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