Neil Bradbrook: Groupthink is a trap - businesses do far better when there is diversity of thought
Neil Bradbrook, managing director of Falkirk-based Ahead Business Consulting and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management, discusses the importance of diverse thought in a business.
When it comes to running a business, nothing is more important than diversity of thought. No matter how good a leader you think you are, it is the team you assemble around you that will help you succeed.
My business partner and I come from different backgrounds and that helps when we are making business decisions. We come to similar conclusions, but get there in different ways, challenging each other as we go.
It is not nearly enough, though. We might have to make the decisions, but we do not have all the answers, which is why it is so important that we listen to the team around us. Only when we hear the suggestions they are making and the solutions they are coming up with can we make a truly informed choice.
As human beings we are all social animals who like to interact and do things together. That applies in the workplace just as much as anywhere else. If you can create a working environment where people enjoy what they do and feel empowered to air their views, everybody benefits from the power of the team.
Taking on board views that differ widely from your own can be a challenge but looking at a problem from every possible angle is the way to find the best solutions. That means surrounding yourself with people from as many different backgrounds as possible rather than hiring in your own image.
That takes a conscious effort - we have all heard of unconscious bias, right? - and so self-awareness is key. No matter what position you are in - even if you are in charge of a huge global enterprise, as Elon Musk is at Tesla - you cannot ever think it is all about you. The very best senior managers are the ones that realise they might not be doing everything right.
A good manager should always be prepared to change their mind when presented with views that differ from their own. That is why listening is so important. Listen to what your employees have to say, listen to your customers, take advice. You do not have to act on every single thing but listen - and listen well - before making that call.
Trying to force people into your own mould will never work; embracing them as they are and seeking out the value they can bring, will. That can be difficult. Some team members can struggle to engage in a way you understand. They are the ones you have to invest even greater effort into listening to, because only by accepting that everyone can be part of the team will you have a truly inclusive organisation.
If you do not make an effort to show you are genuinely inclusive there are some people you are going to turn off. You will be the loser in that situation because you will be missing the opportunity to find out what they could add.
Some managers find it hard to empower the individuals in their team. That is understandable: few people are given the training they need to take on a management position, with most being promoted simply because they excelled in the role they were already in.
Without being told otherwise, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that with power comes responsibility and with responsibility comes the need to make all decisions alone.
But if team members feel they understand your organisation’s vision and their role within it - and that they have the autonomy and opportunity to contribute and make a difference - you get so much more out of them.
That is to everyone’s benefit. If you are all pulling in the same direction, and everyone knows what the effort is being put in for, it will be so much more effective than if you just have one or two people doing it.
I have always been a firm believer that the power of the team is far greater than that of the individual; if you get the team right, collectively you will be so much stronger than each of you on your own.