In our group discussions this week, one thing that stood out to me was that we did not focus a lot of our attention on what we could have done better. Why? I’m not too sure. In our rollover before the break we did reasonably well, which may have contributed to the shared understanding that we didn’t have much bad choices to reflect on. However our SHV was not great compared to other teams, suggesting there were certain decisions that were perhaps poorly executed. Instead of reflecting on where we could have made better decisions we tend to label the outcomes as “out of our control” to a degree, because so much is dependent on what the competition do. While this is true to some extent, after completing the readings I have come to realise that our group may unconsciously be engaging in what Argyris (1991) describes as defensive reasoning, which is ultimately creating a barrier to our learning.
It appears that in order for us to admit we made the wrong decision, the consequences have to be significantly bad. For example our share price drops, however this is yet to happen for us. If these consequences are only slightly undesirable (such as having less sales than we anticipated) it becomes a problem that we (unconvincingly) rationalise, commonly saying “we couldn’t have known the competition was going to do that” or “we still did pretty good”. This makes me concerned that we are potentially setting ourselves up to make the same error again. This is an individual problem for myself as well as a group dilemma. I am in charge of marketing in our group, and while we have been doing reasonably well, our awareness/PR is occasionally off the mark a bit. I consider this my responsibility, so when the results are not as I hoped for I immediately feel slightly disappointed. However, I make myself feel better by rationalising my decisions with explanations such as “I didn’t want to spend too much” or “we don’t want advertising wars” etc. Argyrus (1991), would argue that I am limiting any learning from occurring as a result of my defensive reasoning. I was completely unaware that I was actually doing this, until after completing the readings. My group members do not suggest I could have done things differently, most likely to avoid pointing the finger and creating conflict. My group seems to have the attitude of it’s already happening, no point dwelling on it, time to move forward. I think this is a great attitude in some situations, however Argyris has made me reconsider this mentality as he has pointed out this could be what prevents any learning from occurring.
Having reflected on this problem, I realise it is a collective as well as an individual problem for myself. In order to break out of this “vicious cycle of defensive reasoning”, Argyris suggests that one can learn to identify inconsistencies with their espoused and actual theories of action. But because Argyris highlights its strength, this makes me believe that defensive reasoning will not be an easy habit to stop. Although, being consciously aware of it now, I may at least think twice before blaming a result on an external factor. In terms of our group decisions, I hope we can devote more focus to how we can improve, by firstly admitting that we could have done something better. This is going to be challenging, especially if this decision has come from another “area” of the business, as we will not want to feel like we are pointing the finger at someone. In addition, it’s hard to admit you stuffed up. It’s easy to try and justify your decisions. Our shareholder value is increasingly, but only at a steady rate. I know I can’t really complain, but our team is driven and committed so I we will start to see slightly more significant increases.
It will be interesting to see whether next week’s discussion and decision making will be any different than this weeks, now that we are all aware of this defensive reasoning concept.
Argyris, C. (1991) Teaching smart people how to learn. Harvard Business Review, 4(2), 5-15