You're not listening well enough

It matters, so we must allow everyone to contribute.

The structures in our organisations are, more often than not, a contributory factor for ruin. We still rely on top-down management to set the course and come up with new ideas and strategies. We tend to surround ourselves with the like-minded and people who reflect our worldview and opinion back to us. This will lead us to disaster.

But, there is something we can do about this, something easy to do that will provide the radical results we need.

You’re missing the rest of the picture

There is a real threat to every one of our organisations, whether they are small businesses, large corporations or national governments, from inherent biases within the structure of our organisations and ourselves. These can range from overconfidence and overoptimism to confirmation bias and the need to conform or groupthink. In fact, Ralf Dobelli identifies 99 different biases in his book The Art of Thinking Clearly that we can be making use of without realising it.

These biases are analogous to shortcuts in our thinking and we may be so used to them that we don’t realise they are present in our thinking. They are the result of our life experience which is the sum of our upbringing including education, surrounding culture and many such factors. It is therefore useful to us to circumvent such biases by attempting to hear from a wider set of people with a wider set of variations in their upbringing, education, status, cultural background etc. This will uncover some of our inherent blind-spots. This will help us to see some of the rest, if not all of the rest, of the picture.

We find comfort among those who agree with us - growth among those who don't.
Frank A. Clark | American lawyer and politician (1860 - 1936)

The real problem

In his book Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed champions diverse thinking and makes a particular point about our bias towards people who share our viewpoints and experiences. We will tend to surround ourselves with people we identify with and our identity is informed by our beliefs, background and perspective amongst many other things. This is a subconscious bias and becomes a habitual way of thinking known as homophily

Are there any solutions?

The good news is yes there are solutions. There is some element of paradox in that to free ourselves from this problem requires some structure. This can be in the guise of:

  • Being pragmatically conscious of our bias and seeking to counteract it

Or in some cases such as top-down management and hierarchical problems causing us not to hear from a wider pool of people MundoNovus can help by:

  • Using facilitated meeting practices that can encourage organisational cultural change
  • Offering workshops on exercises that encourage active listening
  • Playing structured games that are designed to gain deeper insights into your organisation, how to meet your goals and who your customers and clients are (including what they are looking for)

The paradox of this is that using structures will allow more freedom within your organisation for voices to be heard and actively listened to.

This stuff really works

We have found through our work that using structured practices, especially play which allows a low bar to entry and taps into our brain’s pleasure centre, has helped organisations to bring about change and have some of those deep conversations that are often not heard.

Don’t just take our word for it though, this article in McKinsey Quarterly from March 2017, gives a great insight on how German electric utility RWE confronted bias to form a new culture and make better decisions.

Depending on the way you organize decision processes, when the boss speaks up first, the likelihood that anybody who’s not the boss will speak up with a dissenting opinion is much lower…

…we’ve now made it mandatory to list the debiasing techniques that were applied as part of any major proposal that is put before us as a board.

Using play we can help to circumvent these biases by, for example, allowing conflicting ideas to be encouraged. This is a safe way to encourage conflict which is often actively discouraged within organisations leading to entrenched groupthink.

We can bring serious results from using exercises, liberating structures and play.

I think everyone should just do it; just start with it even on a pilot basis. You don’t have to start rolling it out across 1,000 people. You can start with your own board, with a few test examples, and see if you think it helps you. But if you do it, you have to do it right; you have to be serious about it.
Bernhard Günther | CFO, RWE

Get in touch with us and we can co-create new strategies that can help your organisation be ready for whatever the world throws at it. Let’s play!

Image credit: Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

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