Why can camaraderie be a pitfall in crisis management? Is collegiality an answer?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I give my personal opinion, not that of any organization.

This article is inspired by “Chapter 10 – Fairness, Diversity, Groupthink and Peer Effects: Why Other People Are Important to Our Risky Decisions” from the book ‘The Ten Commandments of Risk Leadership – A Behavioral Guide on Strategic Risk Management’ by Annette Hofmann.  She gives the following law of risk leadership:

“Teams with great diversity with defined rules for communication and collaboration make better decisions.”

Research shows that teams need collaborative assignments/tasks, known rewards, and defined objectives to have a psychological sense of security and to promote productivity. Conflict can be good. If we aim for a good decision-making process, a diverse team with specific communication and cooperation rules is needed.

How does this relate to pure camaraderie? The first question is: what do we understand by camaraderie?

At https://www.vertalen.nu/betekenis/en/camaraderie , the term is defined as:

  • camaraderie among colleagues
  • “the quality of affording easy familiarity and sociability”

In my ideal image of a group of comrades, everyone is equal.  It is seen that when they  want to organize something among comrades, they looks at the natural leader.  And therein lies a hidden dangerous factor in the behavior, namely groupthink.

The original description of groupthink is by Janis (1991):

‘A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.’

 It occurs when certain antecedent conditions (symptoms of groupthink) and a defective decision-making process are present.

The most important antecedent condition is a ‘cohesive group’. A similar other is isolation of the group. In both cases additional opinions and advice from third parties cannot end up in the group where they need to be. And are therefore not considered.

In addition, the attitude of the group leader is important. Especially when he selectively favors people in their opinion (often his own). Or when the group is homogeneously composed of like-minded people.

A third antecedent condition refers to provocative situational contexts. For example, in case of extreme time pressure, one chooses the leader’s solution, because one sees no other way out or considers nothing else as realistically feasible.

In addition, members with low self-esteem like to seek confirmation within a group and are averse to contradicting others (with group consensus).

Complex and moral conflicts can also affect an individual.

Symptoms of striving for unanimity are:

  • Illusion of being invulnerable.
  • An inflated level of optimism.
  • Increased willingness to take risks.
  • Blindness to warning signs and impending failure.
  • The belief that you are unstoppable.
  • The conviction of moral superiority.
  • Stereotyping of other groups.
  • The conviction of superior intelligence.
  • Considering negotiation with other groups futile because the other group is seen as incompetent and weak.
  • Underestimating the opponents.
  • Collective rationalization of one’s own great right.
  • Direct pressure on dissenters in the group.
  • The oppressive person presents himself as a sentiment guard.

Lesson learned from this could be that a strong cohesion of the group is one of the most important contributions to groupthink.

Groupthink needs strong feelings of solidarity and the individual desire of the group members to have good relationships with each other. This is often seen in comrades in a cohesive group.

The correlation between groupcohesion and groupthink is rather weak. But there is one. ‘Debiasing’ strategies are therefore needed.

A group with a strong leader is vulnerable to groupthink. Or if one is unsure of having a dissenting opinion.

  • Self-leadership is important for risk leadership to build self-confidence. For this, the interpersonal sense of safety is important.
  • Against homogeneity of the group and groupthink, third parties can be involved in the story. Often these are consultants.
  • Letting the group leader express his opinion last is useful to let others express their opinion for themselves. This is important for the impartiality of the leader. Otherwise, there is a danger that in the group
    • less information is used;
    • the leader exerts too much influence;
    • fewer proposals for solutions come on the table
  • In addition to personal safety, constructive conflict is beneficial. This is because differences in team members’ opinions, ideas, values, and ways of thinking are important to learn to work together optimally. This is best done with a high degree of interpersonal safety.

Conclusions:

Leadership is a double-edged sword because:

  • leadership can prevent groupthink by being aware of the antecedent conditions, the symptoms of groupthink, and symptoms of defective decision-making processes;
  • strong leadership can kick-start groupthink.

The camaraderie should not be ‘fictitious’: one must continue to dare to challenge the other. Otherwise, one is too easily impressed by the opinion of ‘peers’. After all, higher  social interaction also  increases this effect.

The culture in the crisis team is important. If in an organization one does not have the habit of expressing one’s own opinion in a crisismeeting, then this groupthink provokes a lower qualitative decision-making process, with higher chance of mistakes.  It can go so far that people expect you to keep your idea to yourself. With all the consequences for the quality of the decisions.

A well-known example of such groupthink was the disaster with the Challenger on January 28, 1986.

Another well-known example is the Chernobyl disaster on Saturday, April 26, 1986.

Consequently, it is best to work from a collegiality based on free expression. This may involve aspects of camaraderie, as a catalyst. Not as the main characteristic of mutual behavior.

What's in store for us?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I am writing my own opinion, not that of any organization.

Recently there was a team building event for the organization I work for. On leaving the reception, a colleague asked if I knew about future crises that await us. Actually, the answer to that is: no. I don’t know that. Knowing about the future is pointless. After all, an Arabic proverb rightly says: “He who foretells the future is a liar. Even if he is right.” Doubting about a number of things, however, is another matter. And doubts can be well-founded. And it moves us forward to do this in a reasoned way.

So at that moment I spoke about what was on my mind. On issues for the future, based on uncertainties. These are:

  • Diseases
  • Famine
  • War

And separately: terror (recently there were statements by terrorist organizations to increase the number of attacks). Because while its urgency is enormous for the psychological effect it produces, its materiality is more limited than the other three.

  • Diseases can occur for various reasons. The climate can change in Western Europe in such a way that, for example, the tiger mosquito gets even more opportunities than it already has and, for example, brings Zika to us through the global supply chain. But diseases such as yellow fever and new variants of corona can also spread: through global tourism. Furthermore, migrants can also bring new, unknown variants of diseases that we naturally have, such as tuberculosis, to which our population has no resistance.
  • Famine was discussed much earlier by UN Secretary General Gutiérrez , who mentioned this issue. A possible cause for this is the drought, which in the long term could have a disastrous effect on the harvests in Western Europe. But also countries that close their borders for food exports, or can no longer export to our regions because of war such as the one in Ukraine. Whether a change of food source, such as switching to quinoa , will provide a solution remains to be seen. A change of diet, including more seaweed products, may be necessary, but the question is whether science and the food sector can react quickly enough to produce sufficient seaweed in a large number of varieties on a large scale. But the increased wealth in Eastern Europe can also play a role: will Polish and Hungarian drivers still want to drive in Western Europe to supply the supermarkets when they can earn the same amount by driving locally around their church tower in Eastern Europe? Even if the stocks in the countries in Western Europe were sufficient, the stores could not be supplied due to a problem of the supply chain.
  • War could be caused by water shortages in certain regions. These are so-called climate wars. But the war in Ukraine could also escalate. Or, with increasing political attention to problems close to home, terrorist conditions elsewhere could accelerate to such an extent that some countries think they must intervene militarily somewhere. And that in itself could cause terror in our regions. After all, there have already been statements from terrorist organizations that say that the war in Ukraine is an excellent situation to increase the number of terrorist attacks in the West. The question then is how efficiently the special forces of the police can continue to act under an increased workload due to a potentially increasing number of attacks.

These matters are uncertain, but they are already being discussed.

That means that through these uncertainties we have 23 = 8 possible futures. These are the possible combinations of famine or not, war or not, and disease or not.

If we limit ourselves to these three axes, we arrive at a 3-dimensional cube with 8 parts. By unraveling these, we come to the following conclusion:

  • In four of them there is war.
  • In four of them there is hunger.
  • In four of them there are diseases.
  • In one of them we have all three.
  • In one of them we have none of the three.
  • In three of them we have two out of three.
  • In three of them we only have one.

By raising these doubts, we are not pessimists, even if it seems so. It may allow us to look for possible indicators that tell us more about the direction(s) the world is heading in the short and medium term. We have to prepare for that. However, it is not getting any easier to determine good indicators in a fast-moving world, which are also timely enough to have predictive value.

Some questions we should ask ourselves are:

So what is the reasonable worst case for Business Continuity Management? What measures can we devise to be sufficiently resilient , without costing a fortune? Which measures cover several possible futures wholly or partly, so that strategic and especially in the global supply chain good decisions can be made?

How can we prepare and to what extent should we do that? When do they occur? How should we communicate about it? How do we break through the harmful law of psychology that states that what we are not used to is difficult to imagine, what we consider highly unlikely, and what we consider unlikely is considered to be negligible. What type of network leadership do we need? What is the role of who? Is it necessary to give everyone subsidiary decision-making rights? Or even decision-making obligations? How can we get people to develop sufficient trust in each other on such a scale? And how far does the geographical scope of the approach extend? Which partners do we want to involve, sectors, countries, continents…

But another question also arises: what is the chance that I have proximity bias in this reasoning because of the latest news reports? Or another kind of bias? According to recent studies in the UK, bias is said to be a pervasive problem. That thought also makes me insecure. There is work to be done. Perhaps for everyone.

Discussing the tragedy of the war

Author: Erik De Soir; photo by Karolien Coenen

For several weeks now, images of war have been a daily presence in our homes and we have been overwhelmed by the news of the fighting in Ukraine. It is not only war journalists and diplomats who are involved, but everyone is now a participant in the war that is taking place in Europe and threatening us all. Up to a few weeks ago, for most of us this was unthinkable! This war has generated a new influx of refugees and many of our fellow citizens are preparing to assist refugees and war victims once again and even take them into their homes. Many questions arise as to how to discuss the war with children.

Set out in the document below are ten practical tips on how to talk to people who have fled the war, left everything behind, and need to be accommodated in a foreign environment.

When are scenario thinking and future planning appropriate in risk management ?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I write my own opinion, not that of any organization.

On the one hand, we have risk management.

In risk management, it is common practice to translate a risk as a product of probability and impact.  The most well-known formula for measuring a risk is:

R = P * I

R is the measure of risk, P the measure of the probability of an undesirable event occurring and I its impact on achieving the objectives of the organization. Both are considered known.

Special attention in this article is paid to the situation in which there is a high degree of uncertainty with a risk. Unlike certainty, usually mathematically defined as a number between 0 and 1, or between 0% and 100%, uncertainty is rather something we feel but on which we cannot attach a clear mathematical definition that leans back on certainty. What we do know, however, is when the uncertainty is maximum for the occurrence of an event as a result of a cause. That is if the probability is 50%. Why? Because then the occurrence of the event is a coin on its side: you really do not know which way it will fall.

On the other hand, we have the combination of the future strategies with scenario thinking.

In itself, risk management is also a bit like thinking towards the future: if the probability is high, for example 95% chance of occurrence, then there is a relative high certainty of the occurrence of the impact. It is then, from risk management and in function of the impact, that one has to define and implement a measure. This allows the impact to be optimally prevented or mitigated (in the event of a threat) or provoked to the maximum (in the event of an opportunity).

However, the reasoning I want to make here is this one where the uncertainty is maximum. There it is therefore unclear whether the event will occur, or not. So a twofold future occurs: the event happens or does not happen. With this, a game of extremes occurs, for example:

  • Will it be war or peace?
  • Will healthcare become more preventive or more curative?
  • Will sufficient measures be taken in time for the climate or will it become an unbearable climate?
  • Will there be famine or abundance?

With such uncertainties one can consider these uncertainties in their own right, where one has two futures per uncertainty, or one can  express them per two against each other (if they are sufficiently independent), obtaining quadrants that represent four futures.

In theory one can work with n uncertainties, where one then obtains 2n futures but it becomes problematic, because already from n = 3 one has 8 futures, which becomes unworkable and also because in practice it  becomes more difficult to maintain the independence of these uncertainties.  And that is necessary to foresee extremely different futures.

For each of these futures, instead of directly defining measures, one can then start thinking about scenarios. This is a strategic choice, where one defines how one will act in a certain direction depending on which future becomes true. This instead of putting a single project or action in the pipeline because one has a strong expectation regarding whether (probability rather high) or not (probability rather low) the event with a specific impact will occur.

In order to be able to make the right choice, it is necessary to explore the evolution of the circumstances of the organization.  In other words, lowering the uncertainty about the knowledge of the future. To do that, one has a number of things that one can do.

  • The very first thing to do is to dare to question the assumptions. Are the assumptions that were made the good ones.
  • One determines the extreme futures, the scenarios, and whether one is ready for it, or whether, in contrast, one still has work to do. Usually it is the latter. To this end, one looks at which strategic option is most useful in which possible future. These options involve developing possible future projects or actions, and thoroughly considering their effects with a 360° view. As far as possible, tests or exercises are carried out to estimate the possible effects.  What are the shortcomings that need to be filled in?
  • Furthermore, there is the collection of the necessary information. One will define relevant parameters – indicators – and follow their trends. One determines in advance when one will decide on the basis of which (combination of) indicators which strategic options one will roll out. This is important, because being there in time and preparing for a future can determine whether one can get a  competitive or societal advantage from it or whether one is more likely to encounter a problem.
  • When the future unfolds, one deliberately monitors it, and consciously chooses the pre-agreed options tailored to the actual nuanced future. The timing of the decision and the roll-out of action plans is then crucial.

Conclusion:

Scenario thinking and future planning are relevant within risk management. However, one should have a good idea when this is the case. A rule of thumb is: do this with priority where the probability of an event with a certain impact is average.

Usually there are multiple risks with an average probability. Then give priority to risks with a high impact. After all, these give a more extreme course of the possible futures. As much as possible, make sure that you work with uncertainties that are maximally independent of each other if you plot them against each other.

However, if the impact is very large, and opportunities exist to influence the probabilities in your favor, do not fail to do so with common risk management strategies. “Choose your battles wisely.” After all, future planning and scenario thinking are especially useful when the internal and / or external environment of the organization are substantially uncertain. The choice to work on certainty, or to try to take advantage of uncertainty, is also a strategic choice in itself. And that depends on the capabilities of the organization. The internal environment can usually be influenced. Tinkering with the external environment is usually an impossible task. That is why this technique is also important when trying  to look at risk management objectively for the organization as part of the world.

170 pitfalls for ERM in Europe

Inspired by the book “Enterprise Risk Management in Europe”, Edited by Marco Maffeic

What is it about? It is about the implementation of ERM in organizations in Europe. This is accompanied by a number of obstacles. So there are pitfalls in the implementation of ERM in Europe.

The practice-oriented definition of risk management that is used is as follows:

“Risk management consists of active and intrusive processes that:

  • Are capable of challenging existing assumptions about the world within and outside the organization;
  • Communicate risk information with the use of distinct tools (such as risk maps, stress tests, and scenarios);
  • Collectively address gaps in the control of risks that other control functions (such as internal audit and other boundary controls) leave unaddressed; and in doing so
  • Complement – but do not displace – existing management control practices.”

This book does a study on that. Each of the first 13 chapters are about the situation in a country. This is followed by two reflective chapters about the countries. The countries concerned are: France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Finally, in a number of hierarchies, a summary is given in an academic way.

But what seems really important to me are the identified lessons from which insight comes into what can be the cause of ERM going wrong.

The identified lessons that tell why ERM can go wrong are listed in the accompanying excel sheet. This can be used as a kind of attention list for the (further) expansion of ERM.