The elephant in the room groupthink

When there is an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss, or a condition of groupthink no one wants to challenge, how do you deal with it? The elephant in the room groupthink is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is going unaddressed. For this article, I am referring to situations where we see, hear or feel there is problem and nothing is being done about it. You may have left a company because of such a frustration. You may see projects failing because colleagues don’t spot what you can see. You may have employees who are too passive and just won’t solve obvious problems. Why don’t people see what you can see? I have some suggestions and ideas on what you can do. I will give you the essence of my argument and the solution now. The problem is lack of ownership and leadership. There is disconnection with the problem to be solved or service to be offered. People have entered into a transactional arrangement or disinterested relationship with an organisation or group.

Perhaps people don’t care?

Great businesses need a vision, mission, and difference to be successful, not just in the market-place but to enthuse and guide management and staff. Leaders in a company share the story, strategies and ideas with their team who equally can come up with views on how to drive the company forward if they know what the organisation is trying to do. This translates into hourly tasks, behaviour and interpersonal relations. John Lewis, Google, M&S and Virgin are prime examples of positive work environments. Even so, many would say it’s small companies who are the future because small is best. Studies show smaller teams are most effective. Big companies still suffer from meetings, disproportionate pay between top and bottom and lack of agile thinking. I suggest in many departments people will not care so much as owner-businesses or even smaller firms where relationships matter. It’s not always true and there are many fantastic big organisations.

We see things from our own perspective

How a you see a problem may be unique. Or it may not? Your experience of the elephant in the room groupthink is by definition unique. Anyone joining a new team or company notices this. One reason consultants are used is to give a different perspective. Benchmarking other companies, departments or movement across companies brings fresh thinking. Just like staring at a piece of copy and missing typos. A new eye can spot errors. That is part of the purpose of a non-executive director on a board. Our age, race, neuro-linguistic proclivity i.e. whether we prefer to view, touch, smell or listen as our way of communicating can affect how we notice things and interact.

So, what happens?

The most common examples I see and hear of are:

  • Team meetings when a manager or meeting leader says something wrong and nobody corrects them
  • People laugh at an unfunny joke – mirroring a bullying person in effect
  • A Board Meeting or Team Meeting always follows the same pattern, you know is wrong e.g., takes too long, is badly run, people don’t listen and similar problems. People complain afterwards but do nothing and say nothing in the meeting
  • In a social or family situation for example at Christmas, the same unhappy routine happens that only one person wants

Why does this happen? I would suggest very often due to inertia. It happens also due to a strong character leading  the session. People, all of us get into habits and can miss the obvious. However, in fairness it may be that sometimes, the group is right and we are wrong, that’s democracy!

Win people over

Here are some ways of taking some control of these situations and effecting change.

  1. Stay calm – Steve Barker , leadership expert says: “wear a heart on your sleeve” NB not your heart, i.e. you are staying in control.
  2. Be empathetic – for example use mirroring techniques
  3. Don’t wait or you will miss the moment and the conversation moves on
  4. Confront people who interrupt – use Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations technique
  5. Be concise

See, Hear, and Feel

So how can you take control of the elephant in the room groupthink, when people are oblivious to a problem? It’s about decisions; so you can relax and do nothing if you wish – just chill out! It’s about your values and using a building code to decide. This also strengthens your resolve to do something if you do decide, “hey, this is not right, I maybe the only one here who can see this problem, but I will take action.”

Use some problem-solving techniques

Here are some techniques to help you deal with the elephant in the room groupthink:

  • mind maps
  • fishbone charts
  • 5 whys method
  • Look for important words in the question or issue
  • Use a flow chart – download
  • Break the problem down into components
  • Is there a discernable pattern?
  • Use a drawing
  • Make a model – use 12 manage vast free management tool site
  • Have a go! Try and answer it – use heuristics Nick Hixson expert video 
  • Work backwards – start at the end – video Maurice Ashley
  • Think logically – 5 tips to improve your critical thinking video

Ideas Management and Innovation

You can solve problems or challenges of the elephant in the room groupthink using idea management software which is explained in our article How Idea Management Software Solutions Work here . Years ago, Suggestion Schemes often failed due to be too general. To ask for “good ideas”, is not specific and therefore will miss the target. Good ideas need to be relevant to your challenges. Idea management software solutions software solutions are reviewed here by Capterra.

Be Positive

After all this, it could be you are not right. What I mean is either your view, opinion or approach does not fit in with the place you are in – which may not be your fault. Or you do fit in, but there is an opportunity to fix a problem. Are you up for the challenge or equipped to solve it? It’s your call but as my colleague on leadership Steve Barker says, decide to stay or go. That is being positive. The aim of this article is to help you clarify that just because everyone else or an organisation says “black” and you say “white”, does not mean you are wrong, or vice versa. But it gives you information to use the above strategies. And you can decide to stay or leave a situation – a positive decision: hence the title of this article the elephant in the room groupthink and how to deal with it.

Peter Eales BA Hons Chartered Marketer FCIM FIDM
A Founder Director Dorset Business Angels
MD o i solutions limited

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