Balancing collectivism and individualism

John Predmore

Trusted Information Resource
#1
I found this article very insightful. I hope you agree the lesson about different mindsets is intriguing,
and in dire circumstances, the more effective attitude may be contrary to the collective mentality.
What Climbing Expeditions Tell Us About Teamwork | Quality Digest


This article reminds me of my own story. A previous employer sent me to leadership school, years ago
The class was given the assignment to pack supplies for a lunar landing excursion.
We worked from a list of supplies, but limited by volume and weight constraints. The challenge was to pick the best items.
There was a "right" answer to the exercise, determined by NASA experts after many rounds of simulation.

Each individual completed his own list separately, then members formed small groups to agree on a common list.
The purpose of the exercise was to show how teams produce better decisions than every man for himself.
The group "score" was compared to the score of the six team members' individual scores.

In my case, the group score was noticeably lower than my individual score. The facilitator said he had never seen this happen before, in 10 years.
He asked why, if one member had the "better" answer, why the team failed to recognize the better answers.

I still remember being put on the spot, and my answer in front of that class.
"I knew my answers were better, and I tried to make my argument., but no one wanted to listen to thoughtful reasoning."
Instead, the group relied on polling, rank-scoring, or other group-facilitation methods for the sake of getting the task finished.
In the process. the group arrived at what was demonstrably in this case, an inferior, dangerous, outcome.
 
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RoxaneB

Change Agent and Data Storyteller
Super Moderator
#2
Similar story here...ours was a "team-building" tabletop exercise with the leadership team. The topic was surviving a plane crash and waiting for rescue. First round was to rate the supplies from most important to least as individuals, and then repeat the exercise as a team.

Like you, I scored significantly higher than the team.

In comparison to the rest of the group, I was the only female and the youngest (both in age and tenure with the company), versus a president who "knew" all of the right answers. (insert eye roll) I was continually ignored, despite having grown up in a forest in northern Ontario and done some back-country camping (in comparison to the majority of the leadership group who were urbanites and would never consider camping unless it involved a fully outfitted recreational vehicle).

After we presented the delta between the group's score and our individual scores, where it came to light that I would survive better on my own, the facilitator remarked to the group, "Congratulations. Your president has lead you to certain death. Next time, you might wish to consider the thoughts and opinions of those who have experience in the area."
 

Jim Wynne

Leader
Admin
#3
I tried to think of an occasion in my career where a significant problem was given to a group to solve. I can't think of a single instance. I'm not sure if these teamwork exercises actually have a point that's useful at work.
 

Bev D

Heretical Statistician
Leader
Super Moderator
#5
We have a much better track record at solving problems with teams than with individuals. Of course, these teams are small (3-4 engineers/scientists) and they are highly trained and practiced in robust problem solving methods and experimental techniques and study designs (not fishbone diagrams and multi-colored voting dots). Since most of our problems are in complex multi-disciplinary devices we need an interdisciplinary team in order to navigate the diagnosis to the causal mechanism. Our causal mechanisms often lie 4-10 levels below the experienced problem. but I do agree with you on the questionable value of some of these teamwork exercises...
 

Jim Wynne

Leader
Admin
#6
We have a much better track record at solving problems with teams than with individuals. Of course, these teams are small (3-4 engineers/scientists) and they are highly trained and practiced in robust problem solving methods and experimental techniques and study designs (not fishbone diagrams and multi-colored voting dots). Since most of our problems are in complex multi-disciplinary devices we need an interdisciplinary team in order to navigate the diagnosis to the causal mechanism. Our causal mechanisms often lie 4-10 levels below the experienced problem. but I do agree with you on the questionable value of some of these teamwork exercises...
I think that brainstorming is in a different category than collective decision-making. Ultimately an individual is always going to make the call, and I think we know that it's incumbent on that individual to get the best advice/knowledge to make the decision.
 

Ronen E

Problem Solver
Moderator
#7
Not withstanding all the above insights, the basic question is what's the ultimate measure of "success".

Obviously if you ARE TRULY in a situation you need to survive in a forest, survival is what matters.

However (and I'm saying this from the perspective of an organisational lone wolf), in business organisations sometimes the goal of maintaining that warm and fuzzy feeling of team coherence is just as important (sometimes even more important) than the immediate objective business goal. It may also be a question of short term vs. long term.

In strategic thinking terms, sometimes you need to knowingly sacrifice something in order to gain something else which you consider more important, in the big picture.

Now, I know some of you might think "Yeah, right, like maintaining the power balance, egos etc.". That would be MY instinctive response. But actually sometimes maintaining the President's authority / perceived dignity and NOT shaking the (organisational) tree, allowing people to continue to feel comfortable and secure in their long- (perhaps well-) earned perceived "positions" (not necessarily aligned with formal org positions) can be more valuable to the survival of the org than absolutely-awesome democratic and purely-objective spirit where the young knowledgeable newcomer (regardless of gender) takes the driver seat. Not saying it's "right" or "good", just that the answer is not always automatic or obvious.
 
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