My Team Just Died

December 2, 2012 — Leave a comment

Groupthink can be a killer.

At a conference I’m attending we had a group synergy exercise. The facilitator broke us into groups of 6-10 people, then read us this scenario:

You are the only survivors of a plane crash. It’s January and you are somewhere in the Canadian Rockies. Daytime temps are 25 below zero; nighttime temps are 40 below zero. You are all dressed in business attire. Here is a list of 12 items you were able to salvage from the wreckage. Rank the items as needed, 1 to 12. Your survival depends on it!

We had a few minutes to rank the items personally, in silence. Then we were given 15 minutes to come together as a group, determine our survival strategy, and rank the items as a group.

My team’s strategy was to try to make it to the nearest town, about 30 km away. We prioritized our items.

After time was up, the first question the facilitator asked was how many of our teams would try to make it to the town, or would send one or two people to the town? Our team raised our hands. “You’re all dead.”

At the end of the time, the facilitator compared our personal rankings, group rankings and survival expert ratings. Apparently 26% of individuals score better than their teams, and 50% of teams score better than their smartest individual. Not so in our case. Several of my teammates (including me) scored better as individuals. We all would have survived if we hadn’t gotten sucked into groupthink under pressure.

In real life, we know teams tend to work well. I’m a strong believer in teamwork. However, there are times when It might be wise to give individuals a little bit of time and space to come up with great ideas on their own before forging a wonderfully mediocre, if not deadly, plan.

How might your team be getting sucked in to groupthink?



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