The School governor - Consider rocking the boat

28th November 2008 at 00:00

Nearly 40 years ago, a social psychologist named Irving Janis was busy developing a concept that all governing bodies should be aware of: the theory of groupthink.

A central facet of his model is that cohesion within groups (sticking together) can become more important than considering facts in a realistic way. The result is poor decision making. In groupthink situations, a directive leader emerges who makes his or her opinions clear. Other individuals stay quiet to avoid rocking the boat or because they place a foolish value on unanimity within the group.

Sound familiar? Hopefully the answer is a resounding "No". If the chair of governors ensures balanced meetings, with no individual dominating discussions, where all points of view are heard, then groupthink is unlikely to be an issue.

However, some governing bodies do have highly influential characters, who through accident or design can end up directing the decision-making processes. In these groups, the leader character puts forward their opinions and other governors offer equivocal or tempered comments.

In fairness, it can be easy for this situation to arise, especially given the depth of education knowledge some experienced governors can accrue. Fortunately, the solutions to groupthink problems are not complex.

First, ensure that all governors understand and adopt the critical friend role. There is a wealth of information and training available to help governors with this, including the National Training Programme for New Governors.

Also, groupthink can be suppressed by inviting the views of outsiders, such as your school improvement adviser.

When major decisions are needed, governing bodies can divide into groups and, after discussion, feed back their views so that all the governors contribute.

But perhaps remedies for groupthink are pointless. The governors to whom the suggestions are relevant will sail on regardless. After all, who wants to rock the boat?

Aaron King, A governor of a school in Sheffield.

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