November 2, 2017
Collaboration works quickest with a lack of diverse views, but the results may lack the creativity that only comes when considering alternatives.
By Gerie Owen
Initially when we think of DevOps and Groupthink, it would seem to be an oxymoron. After all, DevOps is based on a culture of collaboration; DevOps teams bring together specialists from disciplines with different views on what is most important and this should form the basis for preventing groupthink. Accordingly, one would think that the tendency of these groups would be to have many lively, productive or, perhaps, even heated discussions as each team member lobbies for what is most important to the area they represent.
However, since all closely-knit teams are susceptible to groupthink, it can certainly happen in DevOps teams. Groupthink, a term coined by Irving Janus in 1972, is a cultural attitude that implicitly rewards members whose striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.
Mindsets and Biases
Just like all teams, DevOps team members may have biases and fixed mindsets based on their respective areas of expertise, team members from opposite disciplines may become polarized and informal leaders may emerge, all of which sets the stage for groupthink. DevOps teams members’ mindsets may impede critical thinking, group interaction may amplify individual biases and group discussions may dissolve into deliberation failures.
DevOps team members from different functional specialties may often defer to the expert in a particular realm to solve individual problems. Since DevOps teams are formed to implement continuous integration and deployment these teams also recognize that they have to solve issues quickly and decisively, and therefore, may defer to the team member with the most authoritative voice.
The best way of avoiding groupthink in DevOps teams is to manage it simultaneously from three directions, as individuals, within the team, and from outside the team. As individual team members, we can monitor our own interactions in meetings. Not only do we need to be willing to voice our opinion when it isn’t the view of the majority; but also, we need to manage our mindsets and biases.
Psychologist Carol Dweck defined two mindsets, fixed and growth. These are ways in which people approach challenges. A DevOps member with a fixed mindset may blame others for issues whereas those with a growth mindset will work more collaboratively. Team members’ biases, the heuristics we use to make quick judgments may also lead to groupthink, especially if the informal leader is especially biased or has a fixed mindset.
DevOps teams can mitigate groupthink within the team by appointing a “devil’s advocate” to facilitate a critical analysis of all decisions and by refraining from discussion until each team member has offered an opinion. It is also helpful to approach issues with a group growth mindset, focusing on solutions rather than on root cause.
Groupthink can be managed externally using Container, Difference and Exchange (CDE), a theory of organizational behavior developed by Glenda Eoyang. Container, difference and exchange are factors that influence how a team self-organizes, thinks and acts as a group. The container creates the bounds in which the system forms. For DevOps teams this could be the physically space or even the team structure if these teams are the leaders of a DevOps transformation. The difference is the ways which the team deals with the divergent backgrounds of its individual members; the various technical backgrounds and specializations of the developers. The exchange is how the group interacts within itself and with its stakeholders. Managers can influence group dynamics by evaluating how each factor is impacting the team and changing one or more of the factors.
Mitigating groupthink is critical to the success of DevOps teams. Groupthink inhibits the DevOps principles of communication and transparency, impedes DevOps transformations and finally, limits innovative solutions that can come from the cross-functional nature of DevOps teams. Don’t let your DevOps team become victims of groupthink. Learn more about groupthink here: