Last year a friend and colleague approached me to ask for advice. He and his wife were leaving their current jobs and moving to a new role in their organisation. What, he asked, from my experience would be my advice to them as they moved to new challenges.
I was honoured to be asked but uncertain how to respond. I found myself saying: “Don’t believe our own publicity.”
Those of us who work in charities and non-profit agencies often tell stories to convince the donors and supporters that what we do is worthy of their generosity. So we tell the stories, which become merged and embellished. If we are not very careful we speak hubris.
The bigger the teams we work in the greater the risk – although individuals and lone-workers can be just as guilty. In teams, though, the danger of groupthink is ever present. Groupthinking encourages lack of critical thinking. It demands uncritical adoption of ideas and acceptance of ideas and stories.
The world of politics seems to be even more inclined to groupthink. Watching the nomination of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate in the USA, and the hyperbole of the so-called Brexit campaigners in the UK, I find myself amazed at the attempt to get the respective campaigns to go along with the dominant rhetoric – regardless of whether it is true, exaggerated or even fanciful.
It takes courage to challenge the group but anyone who does so should be encouraged even if their challenge is ultimately unnecessary or mistaken. We need to hear the voices that stand off and speak caution. Like the Old Testament prophets that saw themselves as watchmen even though their warnings were not heeded.
Writing in Training Zone, Joe Britto notes: “When the drive to conformity means we want to surround ourselves with like-minded people; when we decide speaking out is akin to getting out of the business; and when different views are seen as disloyal we’re fertilising the ground for groupthink.”