Friday, December 2, 2016

Meritocracy and Group-think

Meritocracy is important for companies that need to attract and retain good employees, among other things. It nurtures creativity and in turn drives innovation. All must haves for a successful software product company. To be in business for long I would assume a product company needs to make the right products the right way and sell them right, All three aspects that constitute success(according to this lay person) can benefit immensely from the best people and ideas bubbling up to the top. Having a flat organizational structure would work to bring the value of meritocracy faster than say a hierarchical structure where you need to tiptoe through the structure and norms. Though I find it hard to imagine ATM how a large organization(think thousands) could cohesively work without some sort of hierarchy. 

For some of us fitting into flat organizational structure does not come naturally partly due to our cultural norms and conditioning, meaning at times we might have to consciously counteract/resist some of our behavior to do good for ourselves and the companies we work for if they happen to rely on flat structure and meritocracy. Okay, let's leave aside talk of flat structure and stick to meritocracy because it is something that organizations can benefit from regardless of the way in which they are structured(some better strung words on the subject) and because it's not a polite subject to be hypothesizing on. Lets just stick to the subject this post was intended to be about.

Group-think is a psychological phenomena that explains why groups of intelligent individuals sometimes make catastrophically wrong decisions, mainly due to some of those who have something valuable to add in the decision making process keep quite to maintain group harmony. I will assume group-think and such are taught at business school(the engineers are kept out of the loop again!) and will not ponder on about it further, do a search on the work done by Irving Janis on the subject if you need to get to the nitty gritty. Some strategies leaders can employ to prevent group-think,

  • In situations where you need to ensure all relevant information from the ground level are passed back, leaders and other authoritative figures could restrain from setting the agenda when in discussion, preventing situations where employees feel they are going against the leaders agenda/what's expected. 
  • Employing communication medium that fester flat structure and involvement such as email and chat for group discussions.
  • Assigning multiple groups the same activity and evaluating the two outcomes.
  • Bringing outsiders into group discussions or having designated naysayers to make you consider alternatives.   

Group-think can debilitate a meritocratic work culture by at times stopping the best decisions being made. Leaders should be mindful when focus should be given to preventing group-think as not all decision making situations require such scrutiny and in fact doing so would be counter productive. Meritocracy is a concept we all can benefit from putting in place but putting it in place with realities of the day is not an easy task, we must be considerate of this fact and keep on making improvements to the the process when possible.

12 Angry Men. Speak up if you really have something to say.  

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