Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 18

decisionmaking

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Subtle Groupthink
Brandon Robinson, CAE

Y

ou may remember the scene in the movie "Blazing
Saddles" when the governor, played by Mel Brooks,
comes up with a good idea and his room full of
cronies agree in unison with verbal "harumphs." One,
however, was quickly
singled out by Brooks
who says, "I didn't
get a harumph outta
Harumph
that guy." This is an
extreme example
of groupthink. A
strong leader makes
a decision for the
group and the entire
group goes along to
get along. This is a
dangerous type of
decision-making and
I'm sure most of us
either avoid this or
would know how to
prevent it if it showed
its ugly head at a board meeting. What about a more subtle
form of groupthink, though?

Harumph

Groupthink can occur in a much more subtle way. Decisions
can be made within committees or boards that do not
necessarily reflect the real will of the people present. There
may be any number of reasons why or how this groupthink
occurs even when it may not be as obvious as a bunch of
harumphing yes-men.
Take for an example, a group I was working with a few years
ago on a strategic planning process. If you would have asked
anyone among the leadership of this group what the number
one priority for the association was, they would have quickly
responded with the aspirational legislative advocacy goal
of the organization. In all the conversations leading up to
the strategic planning retreat, this was the clearly identified
highest priority goal. No one would have disagreed. However,
as I led them through the strategic planning process a very
interesting thing happened. Something else entirely emerged
as the number one priority.
At the conclusion of the two day retreat, what emerged for
this group was not the legislative goal but a goal centered
on strengthening the association's chapters or components.
Throughout my time working with the organization there was
18

success || march/april 2017

a lot of talk about the relationship between the organization
and its geographically based chapters. However, no one had
identified this as the top priority issue for the organization.
After going through a facilitated strategic planning retreat
where groupthink
was purposely
avoided, it was
clear chapter
relationships were
a much higher
priority for the
organization than
anyone had realized
previously.

Harumph

Harumph

How did this
happen? And more
importantly, how
can we ensure that
all decisions made
in a group setting
like a committee
or board meeting
are not a result of groupthink? It happened for a number of
reasons, all of which can help you avoid groupthink decision
making within your own organization.

Change the scenery.
One of the best ways to avoid the same conversations and
decisions in a group setting is to change the scenery. It can
be as simple as holding a multi-day retreat in a new location
or adding a new set of voices to the conversation. Pick key
leaders among your membership, leaders from components, or
maybe even leaders from affiliated organizations. Just having
these voices in the room or a different location for your group
to meet can have a very positive influence on the conversation
and decisions reached. Like Albert Einstein said, "doing the
same things and expecting different results is the definition of
insanity." Don't be insane. Change it up.

Level the playing field.
Another great and relatively easy way to avoid groupthink is to
level the playing field. In the scene in "Blazing Saddles," it was
clear the governor's power influenced the groupthink decision.
Do you have a powerful voice or two within the group who are



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Success By Association - March/April 2017

President’s Message
Event Calendar
Change, One Person at a Time
What I Learned as an Employment Attorney: Non-Legal Advice to Get You Out of Legal Hot Water
Is Your Hiring Filter in the Way?
Freedom Comes From Rules
Cost/Benefit of an Organization Retreat
Polish Up Your Confict-of-Interest Policy
Legislative Reception a Success!
Getting the Leadership Basics Right
Member Updates
Should They Stay or Should They Go? (With Apologies to the Clash)
Young Leader Profile
Advertiser Index
Buyers’ Guide
Advertiser Showcase
Executive Director’s Message
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - cover1
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - cover2
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 3
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - President’s Message
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Event Calendar
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 6
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Change, One Person at a Time
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - What I Learned as an Employment Attorney: Non-Legal Advice to Get You Out of Legal Hot Water
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 9
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Is Your Hiring Filter in the Way?
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Freedom Comes From Rules
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Cost/Benefit of an Organization Retreat
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 13
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Polish Up Your Confict-of-Interest Policy
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 15
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Legislative Reception a Success!
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 17
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 18
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 19
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Getting the Leadership Basics Right
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 21
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Member Updates
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 23
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Should They Stay or Should They Go? (With Apologies to the Clash)
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - 25
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Young Leader Profile
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Advertiser Index
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Buyers’ Guide
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Advertiser Showcase
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - Executive Director’s Message
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - cover3
Success By Association - March/April 2017 - cover4
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