The Problem with Leaders

You step into a meeting, full of ideas about how to solve your businesses biggest problems. It’s going to be a productive day. The room is buzzing with energy. Those problems are going to become a distant memory. You can feel it.

May 02, 2018 by Stefanini

And then your boss walks in.

Right now, the entire brainstorm has become pointless. Your boss gives an idea – and everybody latches onto it. And you find yourself agreeing, not wanting to be the only person in the room who wants to argue with the authority figure in the room.

We tend to follow the leader

It’s not your fault. It’s human psychology. We’re biased to listen to authority. In one infamous study – the Milgram experiment – psychologists found that people would give lethal electrical shocks to another participant, just because someone in a white coat told them to.

In another experiment on conformity by Solomon Asch, he found people would give an obviously incorrect answer to a question – if everybody before them gives the incorrect answer. Basically, people tend to just go along with what everybody else in the room is saying.

This is a real problem when trying to come up with ideas. The leader of the group gives their idea – everybody listens to their authority – and they all agree to conform.

But just because the leader said it, doesn’t mean it was a good idea.

Bring together people who don’t know each other

We have a five-day workshop so our clients can find the answer to a specific problem and then test it out with prototypes – Stefanini Dive. At the beginning, we always get people to come up ideas.

But we make sure to get a group of people who aren’t familiar with each other. And that their managers aren’t in the same group. This helps make sure we minimising these biases.

And that approach has worked. It’s helped companies find solutions to their problems. One drink manufacturer, for example, was losing a lot of stock. It just didn’t taste right, and then went to waste.

They’d explored a lot of different technologies. But when we got them all in a room, it turned out it was just a communication issue. It was taking them too long between brewing the drink and tasting it. And so it was going bad in the meantime. A simple process change, and things improved dramatically.

Would they have stumbled on that solution had their bosses been in the room? Would they have all instead latched onto an extremely technical solution that’d need a lot of investment?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. We’ll never know.

But by keeping the leaders out of the room, we made sure people weren’t tempted to conform.

Let's co-create. Ask our experts for a proposal.