John F. Kennedy’s first major decision as president was a disaster. Rumours of an invasion of Cuba by the U.S. was reported on the front page of the New York Times three months before the ‘secret’ operation was launched. When soldiers were finally landed at the Bay of Pigs, they were quickly rounded up and imprisoned. It was a disaster from beginning to end.
An inquiry was ordered into the decision making process, and discovered that the problem was… HARMONY! The leadership team was in perfect agreement over the decision. There were no dissenting voices. They were collegial and got along very well. The term ‘groupthink’ originated from a book written about this decision (Victims of Groupthink by Irving Janis).
The decision making process was altered and introduced these changes:
- Contrarian experts were brought in who were known to hold opposite opinions
- Everyone was encouraged to question everything, even issues outside of their area of expertise
- Hierarchy was set aside. Everyone’s opinion counted equally
- The president would leave for long periods, knowing that the presence of the top leader could squelch disagreement
When the Cuban missile crisis came around, the very same planning team had a very successful outcome, because they encouraged disagreement. JFK was set on a missile strike as a minimum, but didn’t state his opinion. He let the team come up with other options, one of which (blockade) changed his thinking and successfully ended the crisis.
Is harmony hurting your team?
Have a great week!