How to prevent Groupthink in S&OP meetings

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon, which occurs when a group of people, in which the desire for harmony results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.

Teams suffering from groupthink, minimize conflict and create an ‘ingroup’ mentality that rejects challenges to current viewpoints, decisions, or the addressing of controversial issues from the ‘outgroup’. We need discussion and challenge, so these are behaviours that need to be prevented for S&OP to be effective.

Famous examples of groupthink with disastrous outcomes are the downfall of Enron and the second Iraq invasion. The latest large scale example is the Volkswagen debacle, where a significant amount of senior leaders obvious thought it was OK to play the rules and put the VW brand, their whole business and thus the families of over 500,000 employees at risk.

Groups are especially vulnerable to groupthink when:

  • Its members are similar in background
  • The group is insulated from outside opinions
  • There are no clear rules for decision making

At a team level, groupthink can be prevented by addressing team diversity, the creation of trust, seeking feedback and developing clear rules on decision making.

Groupthink might be more common than you think. I’ve certainly witnessed several times in large businesses that the ‘ingroup’ didn’t accept challenge from the ‘outgroup’ or even ridiculed it. I’ve seen an MD slam his fist on the table in an S&OP meetings when he didn’t like a challenging perspective. These are S&OP environment where it is hard to speak up for an individual, but to stay true to S&OP we have to make an effort.

Mentally Tough individuals have the self-worth and confidence to stand out, speak up and challenge the status quo or a controversial issue. Confidence and Challenge are both measurable attributes of Mental Toughness. Hence Mentally Tough individuals who score high on challenge and confidence can help prevent groupthink as well.

If you find it challenging to speak up in front of senior leaders in an S&OP meeting or find it hard to address a critical issue with your managing director, the following might help:

Plan your challenge

Choose the meeting or the moment where you want to bring up your point of view or your challenge. Be specific so you can mentally imagine when you’re going to do it.

Practice your challenge

Write down your challenge and read it up out loud a couple of times a day for a week. Close your eyes and visualize every detail of the moment when you bring up your challenge.

Talk yourself in to the challenge

Get yourself in a positive mindset and get ready to speak up. For a week, use self-talk like ‘I’m looking forward to challenge our Managing Director’ or ‘Bringing up this challenge is important for me’.

Use an anchor to activate your challenge

At the crucial moment use an anchor to activate what you’ve practiced for a week. You can use a pencil top or something sharp to prick your thumb just before your challenge. Also use your anchor whilst practicing.

Good luck with your next S&OP challenge, but remember, you might prevent another VW debacle!

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