Family Meetings: The Dangers of False Consensus
Several years ago, a social psychologist. Solomon Asch, performed
a famous group pressure experiment in which an individual
is asked which of two of four lines were of equal length.
Other group members, coached in advance, unanimously picked
a clearly unequal line. The tension mounted in the room because
the uncoached subject wanted to be both accepted by the group
and confirmed that he was right, as he was certain he was.
From this experiment, Asch asked the question:
Under what conditions would people agree
to see the same thing and produce false consensus, or in today's
world, experience 'group think'?
- He concluded and history has confirmed that the following
conditions create a false agreement, groupthink,
a syndrome so dangerous that it has been implicated by the
911 commission's findings of failure in all branches of
the government to challenge conclusions about safety. And,
as historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. put it, when writing
about the Bay of Pigs fiasco, "Our meeting took place
in a curious atmosphere of assumed consensus." The
danger of group think is that in doesn't just censor dissent
but that it makes dissent improbable. People see what they
want to see, are not allowed to differ with the leaders
and, because agreement is forced and false, do not follow
through with the plans when:
- No chance for dialogue; you look, listen, then decide
- You can only look and listen; there is no discussion
- You judge only on one variable, and over-simplified reality
- No complex ideas, views or options are involved.
Asch's conclusions offer enduring lessons for families in
business that regularly are forced to make critical and complex
decisions affecting the business, the family and the stakeholders.
In order to make these decisions wisely and strategically,
I find that it helps to use the following road map:
- Create an agenda
- Set the timetable beginning and ending time, and stick
- Always have ground rules for discussion, 'rules of engagement'-for
example, only one person speaks at a time, make "I"
statements (as in "I think that we should have a committee
to create an employment plan for the next generation")
not you statements (as in "You can't mean that? You
have always been afraid of policies.)
- Brainstorm ideas; encourage differing ideas
- Narrow down solutions
- Consider the pros and cons for the family and the business
- Arrive at a solution and follow-through