Tag Archives: Intent

Groupthink – The Enemy of Command

“If everyone’s thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.” – George S. Patton

Have you ever wondered how you ended up carrying out a really awful plan?  One that should have easily been cut during the group brainstorming session as someone’s weak attempt at humour?  The likely culprit is a phenomenon known as “Groupthink”.  This special form of dysfunction is the enemy of command because it creates an atmosphere of limited solutions.

Groupthink? Maybe. Bad idea? Definitely.

Groupthink is what happens when we all focus on one solution or pathway to solve a problem.  It can be caused by too many of the same personality type, overly aggressive leadership, or poor communication.  Here’s a pretty good run-down of the symptoms associated with groupthink.

So now you’ve found it, how can you prevent it?

  • Avoid “situating the estimate.” In other words, when faced with a problem, don’t jump to your preferred solution in advance of your team.  Don’t even hint at your preference – let their ideas come out; you may be surprised to find out that your preferred solution is the one that is the least useful.
  • Solicit opinions in reverse order of seniority. Find out what the junior folks think first – this avoids the pressures associated with disagreeing with more experienced members of the team.  Only works if you have created an environment where your junior team members feel comfortable in providing honest input.
  • Use sub-groups. At the risk of sounding like the two Fed-Ex guys trying to get the box to Germany, you may want to break into groups.  Groups working the same problem may widen the solution field.

Have you got an example of groupthink?  What did you do about it and did it work?

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NASA’s New Goal – Is It Clear?

President Barack Obama has issued his orders to NASA: specifically, “”By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space.  We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history.”

Sure, it’s a goal, but is it Commander’s Intent?  You bet it is.

First, it’s concrete – you can visualize it, an asteroid in space, beyond the moon, perhaps presenting an extinction level event.  It helps that some of us probably remember Bruce Willis and Ben Aflleck sorting out that killer asteroid in Armageddon.

Second, it contains the specific tangible elements of a mission statement:

  • Who – NASA and the USA
  • What – manned space flight
  • When – by 2025
  • Where – “deep space”, beyond the moon
  • Why – to land on an asteroid as a precursor step to Mars
  • How – well, that’s the part they hired NASA for, isn’t it?

Lofty goal, no vague generalities – not bad at all.  If I worked at NASA, I’d be both excited and a little concerned – after all, there’s a lot to do before the first space boots touch rock.

Next stop, a small rock hurtling through space.  Your flight leaves in 15 years and some travel restrictions may apply.