Decision-making and working culture

 

Time pressure
We all like to believe that we are independent thinkers and that our values and priorities will not be swayed by circumstance. However, the more we learn from the worlds of neuroscience and behavioural economics the greater the realization that we are not as rational as we like to think and that we are all impacted by contextual factors. This short discussion kit leverages a famous experiment conducted over 40 years ago at Princeton University looking at the impact of time pressure. This can then use this to open a team discussion on factors that influence the quality of our decision-making and how we may best support each other to avoid blinkered decision-making or unfair judgement on others.

Approx running time: 10 – 15 minutes

The train track and the doctor
This discussion pulls from the famous opening exercise on Harvard’s philosophy course. It presents two extreme decision-making dilemmas (a runaway train and a transplant surgeon) to highlight the importance of context in our decision-making. Just because a decision was the right one yesterday, tomorrow when the circumstances have changed, we may need to think again. This enables your team to discuss the critical importance of having colleagues and stakeholder understand how we make decisions and not just the outcome. Your team can reflect on scenarios when this may be highly applicable within our business.  

Approx running time: 10 – 15 minutes

 

 

Forms & honesty
Individual honesty and personal integrity are typically presented as absolutes. “I would never steal” or “my standards would not permit me to cheat or lie.” Society tends to make allowances for extreme situations – personal threat, family safety etc; but perhaps the reality of how and why we act in a given way it is a little more complex? Maybe our levels of honesty can be influenced by more mundane drivers. This short discussion kit explores some of the work being done in the area of behavioural economics regarding individual honesty when it comes to issues such as tax returns and car insurance policies. Can honesty levels be influenced by something as simple as where we place the signature box? What might be some of the implications for how we gather information in our own activities?

Approx running time: 10 – 15 minutes

 

Are you ethical 
A fast paced and fun discussion getting your team to reflect on our ability to self-rationalise and justify poor behaviour. Start by asking for a show of hands for who considers themselves as “deeply unethical”? Then for who consider themselves as “below average for their ethics”? For those who have broken the law recently? 
It is unlikely anyone will rate themselves as “below average for ethics”, but likely many will frequently break the speed limit. Why is that? Is it only with speeding that we apply this type of self-justifying thinking? What are some of the possible implications here?

Approx running time: 5 – 10 minutes

 

 

Obedience and theMilgram Study
Probably one of the most famous psychological studies ever conducted. Milgram was fascinated with why “good” people stood by or even participated in terrible activities. In this experiment Milgram examined what it would take for an individual to do potentially lethal harm to a stranger. We explore what this tells us about our instinct to follow orders and what lessons we can take as we give and take instructions

Approx running time: 10 – 15 minutes

 

The authority reflex

It is incredible how powerful our tendency to follow orders is. Following the obedience studies of Stanley Milgram (would general members of the public deliberately harm a stranger if asked to by someone in a seeming position of authority), Professor Charles Hofling conducted a remarkable experiment with nurses to further explore this phenomenon in a real working environment (would nurses blindly follow the instructions of an unknown doctor). We use this study to discuss how we might be susceptible to blindly following perceived instructions from those in more senior positions and in turn where we may be inadvertently encouraging the wrong behaviours in others.

Approx running time: 10 – 15 minutes

 

 

Time for lunch?
This kit stimulates a quick team discussion on our decision-making habits by highlighting a powerful case study from the work of Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. When making critical decisions most of us would not highlight ”Time since we last ate” as a critical influencing factor – it is. Succinctly telling this enlightening story and then offering a series of prompt questions for the group, this discussion will help you to think about new decision-making routines that can increase rigour and fairness. 

Approx running time: 10 – 15 minutes

 

The tyranny of “OR” (Managing availability bias)
Drawing on the work of the author Jim Collins and feedback from CampbellBarr management workshops, this discussion helps to pose two key reflections points for teams. Firstly when seeking to establish a common perspective must it always be a battle between view A or B, with only one emerging the winner. Are there times we are better to accept it is A and B? Yes, we need to be decisive, but we do not have to be blind to a plurality of valid perspectives. The other tyranny of OR, is when we become so focused on determining between option A or option B, we forget to look for C… This is often termed availability bias. No 10-minute team discussion is going to sweep aside these challenges, but simply by taking the time to explicitly discuss and acknowledge these factors impacting our assessment and decision-making we will become more self-aware and better enabled as a team. In a time of urgent change and needing fresh thinking, these perspectives will matter more than ever. 

Approx running time: 5 – 15 minutes

 

 

Singapore Grand Prix
The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and the actions of the Renault F1 team leaders are a remarkable example of how workplace pressures and the lack of a supporting environment can cause good people to rationalise incredibly bad choices.

You do not need to be knowledgeable about Formula 1 to be able to lead and participate in this discussion. The idea is to tell the story (detailed in the guide) and to then discuss the factors and pressures that could have led to this remarkable set of choices. This is then a catalyst for reflecting on which of these pressures exist within our own working environment and how well we are managing them today. 

Approx running time: 15 – 20 minutes

 

Bountygate – ethics lessons from the NFL
A story about poor conduct in an NFL team would appear to be an unusual starting point for a conversation about ethics. However, by taking a seemingly far removed example this story will quickly get participants discussing the pressures and leadership behaviours or omissions that drive a working culture.  Once the group has started to open-up we can then draw back to our own working environment where we will likely recognise many of the same underlying factors as existed in the Bountygate story.  We end with the question “Business is not a neutral environment, we all face pressures and influencing factors - how well are we managing these risks today?” 

Approx running time: 15 – 20 minutes

 

The Takata story 
This sad story concerns how an airbag manufacturer was blinded to the dangers they created after changing a product component. This ultimately led to multiple deaths, serious injuries, the largest auto recall in history and the destruction of the business. Nobody at Takata set out to injure and harm people, but incentives, gradual normalisations and false rationalisations drove some terrible choices.

Approx running time: 15 – 20 minutes

 


What happened at Wells Fargo

The Wells Fargo story continues to develop and provides many talking points and learning opportunities (unmanaged sales pressure; ill-judge incentive plans; a failure to report or listen to bad news). At its core it is a story about a culture that drove short-term business performance in advance of any true sense of customer care. No-one in Wells Fargo leadership set out to achieve this as a deliberate strategy, but it is what they let happen. What are the lessons for how we nurture and evolve our own working culture?

Approx running time: 15 – 20 minutes

 

The VW dieselgate story
Despite coming to light back in 2015, the consequences of the emissions scandal continue to impact both the VW business and individuals involved. How could smart, hard-working employees end up designing a solution that cheated over 11million customers and attempted to deceive regulators? This story can open valuable conversations about when culture becomes myopic on targets and how management by fear initially spurs and then nearly destroys a business. 

Approx running time: 15 – 20 minutes

 

Seeing the workplace through the eyes of your team (Lessons from the USS Benfold)
How did a change of Captain on the USS Benfold, a $1BN naval destroyer, turn it from one of the worst performing ships in the US Navy to the very best and in a manner that was able to sustain after the captain left? This discussion provides a series of anecdotes from Captain Abrashoff to encourage team discussion on how we can better see situations through the eyes of others and are we truly prepared to stay the course on building a strong working culture. 

Approx running time: 10 – 20 minutes

 

 

The KPMG story
In this remarkable and contemporary story we look at how intelligent professional individuals could make choices about stealing information and cheating in professional exams. These choices when examined individually seem ludicrous; but set in the context of pressurised work environment are more understandable. In a time of uncertainty and pressure what are we doing to ensure that we don’t rationalise unethical conduct?

Approx running time: 10 – 15 minutes

 

 

Quietest voice in the room 
When we are operating under stress (or even with it!) it can be a natural challenge to give time to hearing differing opinions and perspectives. This can increase when it comes to taking in the views of those more naturally introverted team members or the quieter voices in the room. Yet often it may be these team members who have the insight that can unlock a problem or give fresh perspective on an untapped opportunity or unforeseen risk. Leveraging some lessons learned by BP as they emerged from the Gulf of Mexico disaster, this simple discussion offers a number of question prompts to help your team reflect on the value of quieter voices and how together you can better speak up and listen up. 

Approx running time: 10 – 15 minutes

 

 

Managing your energy not your time
Time pressure is a reality for all of us. It is important to manage our time. What is often neglected are our energy levels. In a few simple questions we examine energy levels for mind, body, emotions and spirit and look at strategies for managing when we struggle in any of these areas. In a period of increased stress, our ability to self observe and regulate are vital capabilities.

Approx running time: 10-15 minutes

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