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Are You Ready for the Father of Radical Transparency? Who this guy is and how he eliminates the pitfalls of Groupthink

By Karla Schlaepfer
ray dalio, adam grant, company culture, idea generation, killer phrases, innovation, management, leadership

Groupthink is the enemy of innovation.

If everyone in the team agrees in order not to offend others. Or because it is too threatening to think independently, then you have lots of mediocrity.

Why “killer phrases” kill motivation

Sometimes Groupthink is mistakenly cited as the reason that brainstorming doesn’t work.

This is not the case. One of the brain storming rules is to defer judgement. This means to postpone or put off judging ideas until a later stage. Critical judgement is an essential part of the idea evaluation but not right from the start.

If people begin criticizing with “killer phrases”* before lots of ideas have been expressed in the initial idea generation phase, further ideas are squelched in the bud. People are afraid of embarrassing themselves and looking stupid. Especially the contributions of the more introverted team members are inhibited. This is why it is essential, to clearly separate the stage of idea generation from that of evaluating ideas. When working this way, I have my groups create a conscious interruption in their thinking. For example, with a short game or fast ball toss.  Idea mature and take on shape by examining them critically from different perspectives. This is essential in order to develop and later to test the functionality of the generated ideas.

“No one has the right to hold a critical opinion without speaking up about it”

While writing about the importance of team culture and what makes a good team produce consistently excellent results, I came across the financial consulting company Bridgewater Associates (Connecticut USA) and the charismatic chef Ray Dalio. As the founder and CEO he has implemented his vision. He maintains a transparent groupthink-less culture which is radical and tough in its honest, revealing feed-back and decision making policies.

How does this Bridgewater company culture work against a groupthink mentality?

Dalio strives to prevent groupthink by inviting, no rather, demanding, dissenting opinions from everyone in the company. Bridgewater claims to have eliminated decision making hierarchy. The company culture is based on a 100+ pages of guiding principles that structure the feedback, inter-personal relations and determine the value system of the employees. These company principles are situatively based maxims about how to think or act in different situations if you want to have meaningful relationships in your life and work.

“Don’t let loyalty stand in the way of truth and openness”

Dalio asserts in the principles. These principles have been downloaded over 2 million times. New employees are intensively trained in bootcamps (!) to apply them in stressful situations. Maybe this place is starting to sound a little like a strange cult? That’s what I thought, until I read in Adam Grants Originals in which Bridgewater is showcased as a case study. One huge difference to a cult, and this is an essential point, is that instead of the principles being treated like unshakable dogma,  employees and teams are encouraged to challenge the principles too! So either you use the principles to make decisions with at Bridgewater, or you fight for new values and practices. Either way to be a leader in this culture you have to be brutally honest and learn to think independently.

Bridgewater’s culture is strong since employees are committed to a set of values and norms and people are expected to preempt assumptions with “why”. Raymond Dalio can be fairly certain that his entire team will challenge his assumptions and those of  others. The goal is to make relevant decisions based on the value of the idea or solutions, not influenced by status, fairness or other interpersonal bonds.

It seems to be working. Bridgewater shows high earnings and a fairly low employee turnover. Is Bridgewater a dynamic company?

Would you find it exciting to work in such a radical strong company culture? Let us know in the comments below.

killer phrases are those like: “We’ve done that before, it didn’t work.” “That costs too much.” “It’s a good idea BUT”