Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Going against the room

Couple of great quotes on Pro Football Weekly yesterday from anonymous scouts, coaches, GMs, and other front office folks. Here's one:

“One of the most difficult parts of scouting is when you know a guy is going to be a top-15 pick and you have to tell everyone in the room you don’t see it, that the guy is going to be a bust. How many evaluators can put their nuts on the line and go against the room?"

What he's describing is what my college psychology prof spent several lectures talking about one semester: "Groupthink," which this article defines as "a mode of thinking people engage in when cohesiveness is high."

In a front-office setting, as in many business settings, groups working together is inevitable and, in most cases, positive. As described in the article, "Groups are successful because the group members bring diverse ideas, the collective knowledge of everyone is significant, and groups tend to be focused. Groups must accomplish tasks that individuals cannot. This is the primary function of groups."

So whether you're talking about a basketball team or a scouting/personnel department, groups clearly have an important role.

But sometimes even the best groups make bad decisions. According to my psychology professor (and this article), some groups can become so "task-oriented and goal-driven" that their members "ignore obvious danger, take extreme risk, and are overly optimistic."

In some cases, some members begin to "withhold their dissenting views and counter-arguments." When this happens, the other members believe "falsely that everyone agrees with the group's decision; silence is seen as consent."

In short, "groupthink can lead to bad judgments and decisions being made."

But it can be prevented by encouraging those in the group to become "critical evaluators." Even better, split up the group into smaller groups so that each group comes up "with different ideas, and the pressure to conform is not as great." Then, bring the groups back together to discuss their ideas.

Another idea is to designate one member of the group as the "devil's advocate" who asks the hard questions. "This strategy will force the group to take a second look at every decision that is made. The key is that this person is "taken seriously and be allowed to speak at will if this strategy is to be effective."

Perhaps most importantly, encourage those in the group to simply -- as the scout above puts it -- "go against the room."