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Imagine you’re leading an exercise development planning meeting for your organization. Walking into it you felt good, thinking you have everything planned out and all of the answers and the direction set. But then, almost immediately, one planning team member begins to question you.
You handle the immediate concerns, but you see this person isn’t satisfied. The questions continue, and each challenge leads to a lengthy discussion of, in your opinion, minor significance. You’re watching the clock, precious meeting minutes ticking away.
You’re not really even sure who invited this person, but it’s taking everything you have to not tell him to sit down and be quiet. But what we often don’t realize is that this individual is one of the most critical pieces to your planning group. Without him or her, you can be led down a path of irrational decisions and poor planning that ultimately lead to exercise failure.
In the book Sway-The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, the authors Ori and Rom Brafman, show that without that dissention from a "blocker," the results of group speak, or loss aversion, can be disastrous. They detailed the role that the absence of a blocker had in the KLM aircraft disaster on the Canary Islands in 1977, and continued by describing the importance of the blocker in Supreme Court decisions and in the boardroom. They sum their research as follows:
“Whatever the situation, be it the cockpit or the conference room, a dissenting voice can seem, well, annoying. And yet, as frustrating as it can be to encounter blockers, their opinions are absolutely essential to keeping groups balanced. It’s natural to want to dismiss the blocker’s naysaying, but a dissenting voice (even an incompetent one) can often act as the dam that holds back a flood of irrational behavior.”
Engaging dissension and encouraging diversity in thoughts is as critical in exercise design as keeping to the agenda. Embracing the blocker may just prevent you from making major errors in planning judgments.