>Groups Can Help or Hurt the Decision Process…Here’s how

>Generally, IT governance is based on the assumption that by vetting decisions in groups or boards—such as an Enterprise Architecture Board or Investment Review Board–we get better decisions. I for one have been an outspoken proponent for this and still am.

However, I read with great interest in the Wall Street Journal, April 25-26, an article entitled “How Group Decision End Up Wrong-Footed.”

In this article, an organizational psychologist at Stanford University, Robert Sutton states: “The best groups will be better than their best individual members”—okay, that’s right in line with our IT governance model, but then goes on to say…

and the worst groups will be worse than the worst individual.”—oh uh, that’s not good…here the IT governance model seems to backfire, when the group is dysfunctional!

Here’s the explanation:

“Committees and other groups tend either to follow the leader in a rush of conformity [here’s the herd mentality taking over] or to polarize into warring groups [here’s where the members break into oppositional stovepipes jockeying for position and turf].”

In these all too common dysfunctional group scenarios, the group does not work the way it is intended to—in which members constructively offer opinions, suggestions, explanations and discuss issues and proposals from various points of view to get a better analysis than any single person in the group could on their own.

Instead, “all too often committees don’t work well at all—resulting in a relentless short-term outlook, an inability to stick to strategic plans, a slapdash pursuit of the latest fad and a tendency to blame mistakes on somebody else.”

So how do we develop groups that work effectively?

According to Richard Larrick a psychologist at Duke University, “For committees and other boards to work well, they must be made up of people with differing perspectives and experience who are unafraid to speak their minds…they must also select and process information effectively and seek to learn from their mistakes.”

In this model, people in a group can effectively balance and complement each other, and synergistically work together to make better IT decisions for the organization.

Here are some suggestions offered by the article for effective groups:

The first is to break the group into “pro” and “con” sub-groups that can develop arguments for each side of the argument. I call this the debate team model and this offsets the tendency of groups to just follow the “leader” (loudest, pushiest, most politically savvy…) member in the room, creating the herd mentality, where anybody who disagrees is branded the naysayer or obstacles to progress. To get a good decision, we need to foster a solid debate and that occurs in an environment where people feel free to explore alternate point of view and speak their minds respectfully and constructively with non-attribution and without retaliation.

The second suggestion is to ask how and why questions to “expose any weak points in the advise.” This idea was a little surprising for me to read, since I had prior learned in leadership training that it is impolite and possibly even antagonistic to ask why and that this interrogative should be avoided, practically at all costs.

In prior blogs, I have written how enterprise architecture provides the insight for decision-making and It governance provides the oversight. So I read with interest once more, that oversight has a dual meaning: “the word can mean either scrutiny or omission.” And again it clicked…when the governance board works effectively; it “scrutinizes” investments so that the organization invests wisely. However, when the group is dysfunctional the result is “omissions” of facts, analysis, and healthy vetting and decision-making. That is why we need to make our IT governance boards safe for people to really discuss and work out issues.

>You Can Lead a Horse to Water

>When we architect change, we have to build in the transition plan for how to get from point A to point B. The problem with most enterprise architectures though is that they begin and end with the equivalent of “Thou Shalt” and never does the architecture deal with the behavioral elements of how to actually motivate people and organizations to change the way we plan/want them to.

Maybe that’s one reason why architectures so often remain shelfware and never actually get implemented.

This is reminiscent of the adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” or can you?

With the Obama administration elected on a platform of change and major problems facing our nation in terms of the economy, healthcare, the environment, and so on, we are seeing the government confront the dilemma of how do we get the change we promised?

Time Magazine, 2 April 2009 has an interesting article “How Obama is using the Science of Change.”

The administration is using it [behavioral science] to try to transform the country. Because when you know what makes people tick, it’s a lot easier to help them change.”

Similarly, this knowledge can help enterprise architects effect change in their organizations. It’s not enough to just put a plan to paper—that’s a long way from effecting meaningful and lasting change.

So here are some tips that I adapted from the article:

  • Bottom-up or Top Down: We can mandate change from the top or we can grow change from grass-roots. If we can do both, the change is swifter and more likely to succeed.
  • Carrot and Stick: Change is not easy and usually will not happen without a nudge—we need help. We need to motivate desired change and disincentive obstinate clinging to failed status quo behaviors that are hurting the mission and long term success of the organization.
  • Make change clear and simple: Explain to people why a change is important and necessary. “In general, we’re ignorant, shortsighted, and biased toward the status quo…we procrastinate. Our impulsive ids overwhelm our logical superegos.” So change has got to be clearly articulated, easy to understand, and simple for people to act on. “Cheap is alluring; easy can be irresistible.”
  • Accept that change is painful: We need to keep our eye on the goal, and then accept that we have to work hard to achieve it. President Obama “urges us to snap out of denial, to accept that we’re in for some prolonged discomfort but not to wallow in it, to focus on our values.”
  • The way of the herd: When implementing change initiatives, we need to build community “creating a sense that we’re all in this together.” “We’re a herdlike species….when we think we’re out of step with our peers, the part of our brain that registers pain shifts into overdrive.”
  • Keep the focus on long-term success: Weight the benefits of long-term planning and change to short term status quo and gratification; constantly remind people that most worthwhile organizational goals are a marathon and not a sprint. But together, we can support each other and achieve anything.

With behavioral science principles like these, we can make enterprise architecture transition plans truly actionable by the organization.