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Spotlight

Employees the world over are encouraged to ‘collaborate’ with zeal, but there’s much more to successful collaboration than technology and open-plan offices. Picasso wasn’t a big fan of collaboration. The Spanish-born artist once said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible”. Yet businesses can’t seem to get enough of it; they’ve even torn down the walls and developed software to ensure that people work together. And Picasso wasn’t the only one who railed against the idea of working with others. The co-founder of Apple Inc., Steve Wozniak, was also unequivocal in his advice: “Work alone… not on a committee. Not on a team”. So why did the collaboration craze catch on? And is it all that bad? Skills and culture Collaboration often gets a bad rap because, in many cases, organisations’ efforts to promote and sustain collaboration fall short. Writing in Harvard Business Review, the behavioural scientist Francesca Gino accused leaders of thinking about collaboration too narrowly: as a value to cultivate but not a skill to teach. Her solution is to “teach people to genuinely listen to one another; to approach discussions with empathy, not opinions; to become comfortable with feedback; to lead and follow; to speak with clarity and avoid abstractions; and to have win-win interactions”. That’s a lot for any leader to unpack, but it illustrates one critical point – there’s a good chance that asking your people to collaborate without helping them to build the necessary skills will result in frustration and failure. But rather than blame your people, Francesca encourages leaders who are exasperated by a lack of collaboration to start by asking themselves one simple question: what have you done to encourage it today? According to Maighread Kelly, Director at Collaboration Ireland, collaboration is also a mindset in many ways. Giving thought to prospects for collaboration, be that within your organisation or with third parties, can open up new opportunities and generate a higher level of engagement all round. In her view, there are three critical elements in a fruitful collaboration: It must be a collaboration of the willing – all partners must buy-in fully to the project; The initiator must find the right partner(s), both personally and culturally; and A good process must underpin collaboration. So, it essentially boils down to two key components: skills and fit. If people have the skills necessary to work together, often through uncertainty and disagreement, and the inclination to do so from a culture and values perspective, the chance of success rises significantly. Unexpected challenges However, collaboration also throws up unique challenges that must be managed sensitively. According to Amanda Shantz, MBA Director at Trinity Business School, collaboration is useful for highly complex and strategic tasks such as overhauling an IT system or entering a new market, and such collaborations require diverse and specialised skills – but these very characteristics can also impede collaboration. “Take diversity, for example,” she said. “The challenging tasks that businesses face today require the expertise of people from diverse backgrounds to spark innovation. Research shows, however, that people are less likely to collaborate when others are seen as somehow different from them in terms of age, gender or ethnicity, for instance.” Amanda believes that strong leadership is required to cultivate a culture of collaboration where individuals succeed both because of, and in spite of their diversity. “People need to understand who has the requisite knowledge in, and outside, the business,” she said. “They need to feel that they are operating in a safe place to ask questions and make mistakes, and there needs to be a strong sense of community that’s inspired by an overarching goal.” Interestingly, the lack of an overarching goal is one of the most common reasons for failure in collaboration according to Maighread, who helps guide collaborative projects in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors. “It isn’t good enough to collaborate just because you want to work with another person or organisation,” she said. “For a collaboration to be successful, there has to be a good strategic rationale and a strong business case.” If this is in place, other common threats to collaborative efforts – such as a lack of stakeholder buy-in; poor relationships; a lack of trust; and poor processes – then become more manageable because there is a clear roadmap for the future. Collaboration in action Chartered Accountants Ireland discovered the benefit of planning first-hand in 2019 when it undertook a project to update the Institute’s syllabus to account for the impact of technology on the profession, but without overshadowing its core elements – audit, financial reporting, taxation, business leadership and critical thinking. With a limited timeframe for implementation, the Institute couldn’t ‘go it alone’. It instead collaborated with a host of third-parties to revitalise and future-proof the syllabus. “We broke our projects into two parts, developing new elective subjects in collaboration with CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Financial Accountants) and the Institute of Banking before tackling the technology aspect,” said John Munnelly, FAE Paper Development Executive at Chartered Accountants Ireland. “From my research on the technology side, it was clear that trailblazing companies were doing great things, so I contacted Alteryx, Tableau and UiPath – but these companies had never collaborated with an accountancy body before.” To secure buy-in, John approached senior leaders in each organisation to lay out his vision for collaboration. “I knew that I needed senior project sponsors in our partner organisations, who understood the importance – not only for our profession but also, for their industries,” he said. Working with CIPFA and the Institute of Banking was an efficient profess, according to John, and they both delivered fit-for-purpose syllabi for the public sector and financial services electives. However, collaboration with the technology companies was more complicated. “Once the initial scoping exercise was complete, it was important to share our vision for the new syllabus with our partners,” he added. “This was a learning experience for the companies and while we ultimately produced a suite of materials that complemented the ACA qualification, the low point came when we realised that something was missing.” Although the new syllabus taught essential principles in the areas of data preparation, data visualisation and robotic process automation, this teaching needed to be underpinned by practical experience. “This led to an audacious request for training licences for all FAE students,” added John. “And it was a testament to the strength of our relationships that all partners offered training licences for their products for all FAE students. This would have been quite disappointing had it gone differently, but relationships are indeed at the core of collaboration – particularly when issues arise.” Conflict and collaboration Although the Institute’s experience of collaboration was very smooth and cordial, it is not uncommon for teams to experience conflict as part of the collaboration process. Indeed, somewhat ironically, the absence of conflict may be a warning signal, according to Amanda. “In some cases, people who are collaborating become so excited about their ideas and activities that they shut down naysayers – nobody wants to be the skunk at the picnic,” she said. “Alternatively, an overbearing micromanager who always has the ‘right’ answer doesn’t encourage the type of discussion necessary to optimise collaborative efforts. In both cases, it might be a sign that the environment isn’t safe enough for people to speak out.” But all is not lost. According to Amanda, there are many ways for leaders to increase people’s perception that they can – and indeed, are expected to – put all views on the table without fear or favour. “Senior managers need to set the tone from the top that collaboration and conflict go hand-in-hand,” she said. But although senior leadership rhetoric matters, research has shown that the behaviour of mid-level line managers is especially crucial. “In particular, what’s important is how mid-level managers respond to failures, invite conversation and demonstrate humility and curiosity in their interactions with others,” she said. Words of wisdom And that isn’t the only advice Amanda has for those tasked with building a culture of collaboration in their organisation. “Organisations need to invest in building and maintaining social relationships across the organisation,” she said. “This requires a technological infrastructure that makes it easy for people from different parts of the organisation – often located globally, but even across the building – to work effectively as a team. And the use of software to connect people by projects, not by roles, is another way to utilise technology to support collaboration.” Aside from technology, Amanda returns to the critical role of leadership. She urges leaders to ensure that collaborative behaviours among senior executives are visible to employees and to avoid the tendency to make an executive a standalone ‘hero’ in his or her unit. “Senior leaders need to ensure that employees are selected for – and trained in – the skills needed for collaboration, such as productively resolving conflict and active listening,” she added. “They could also sponsor events and networking activities and host innovative and fun opportunities for people to connect.” Mid-level managers have the most critical role to play in championing collaborative efforts, however. “They need to support the strategic goal for collaboration by coaching employees on how to connect with different parts of the business,” Amanda said. “Research shows that managers can increase collaboration by changing their leadership style as the team’s project progresses. In the beginning, the manager should consider focusing on the task at hand and articulating accountabilities, but when conflict emerges, the manager may consider switching to a relationship-oriented leadership style.” So if you’re frustrated by your organisation’s inability to collaborate successfully in a sustained way, remember Francesca Gino’s simple question: what have you done to encourage it today? Maighread Kelly is a Director at Collaboration Ireland. Amanda Shantz is MBA Director at Trinity Business School. John Munnelly is FAE Paper Development Executive at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Feb 10, 2020
Feature Interview

President of NUI Galway, Prof. Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, the first Chartered Accountant to be appointed president of an Irish university, reflects on his career in academia as he embarks on his third year at the helm of his alma mater. When people talk about Chartered Accountants’ career progression, they often refer to the ‘linear path’ to the position of Managing Partner or CFO. While Prof. Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh’s professional path has been similarly structured, albeit in a different sector, his route has been more circular than linear. From his youthful days as a BComm student in NUI Galway to his current post as President of that same university, Ciarán has enjoyed academic success in a range of roles. As an educator, however, his teachings are grounded firmly in the values of fairness and the greater good – values that he was embued with at a young age. A social science When Ciarán joined the BComm class in NUI Galway, he was drawn towards a career in corporate law – an area that was gaining traction as a viable career option. However, he was converted to accountancy by two lecturers – Keith Warnock and Seamus Collins – who taught accountancy as a social science. They looked at the impact of accounting on decision-making in both business and society, and according to Ciarán, “it was a really nice way of looking at accounting; not just as a technical subject, but as something much more interesting than that”. It may be dramatic to describe this as a Damascene conversion, but following his experience at undergraduate level, Ciarán followed a path to accountancy. Having completed the Diploma in Professional Accounting in UCD while training with Arthur Andersen, he went on to qualify as a Chartered Accountant before moving swiftly into academia. His career has taken him to the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and Boston College as a Fulbright Scholar, and he has also taught at Dublin City University and University College Dublin. Indeed, he has enjoyed his greatest success in Ireland, becoming UCD’s Dean of Business in 2011 before joining NUI Galway as President in 2017. Teaching “at the heart of my day” Ciarán’s rise to the role of Dean and, more recently, President of two of the country’s most respected academic institutions did not come at the expense of his love of teaching, however. He continues to teach into one accountancy module per semester, taking a number of classes with first year accountancy students, for example, in 2019/20. As Warnock and Collins did back in the 1980s, Ciarán positions the subject as part of a broader landscape. “In research, accountancy is seen as a social science to a great extent, but it’s also seen – because of the professional requirements – as a technical subject. Trying to marry those two is always an interesting challenge,” he said. While Ciarán teaches for the enjoyment it brings, there are other more strategic reasons for stepping up to the podium every week. “I’d miss it if I didn’t teach,” he said. “But teaching is also a great way to get into the routine of the year and get to know what’s happening on the campus. It’s a great way to meet students, but more importantly, it sets a good example to both students and staff. Teaching is an essential part of the mission of the university, so putting teaching at the heart of my day is important from that perspective.” The leader’s skill set This type of signalling is an important aspect of Ciarán’s skill set as a leader. When he assumed the role of President at NUI Galway, there were several challenging issues in his in-tray, including issues of gender equality.  “Diversity is strength, particularly in a university. It is not a burden, and should be cherished rather than challenged,” he said. Ciarán is very pleased that NUI Galway has since been awarded Athena Swan Bronze status and has been designated as a University of Sanctuary, meaning that it welcomes refugees, asylum seekers and travellers as part of its community – but he is clear that “there’s always work to be done” in this area.  At the time of his appointment, one of Ciarán’s first acts on his first day was to meet with the Students’ Union President and to send an introductory video to all his new colleagues. In this communication, he talked about our “kindnesses to each other”, a phrase he found echoed across the university community during his subsequent ‘listening tour’.This strategy, according to Ciarán, was very deliberate. “I try to deal with issues early on,” he said. “And a lot of my role as President involves signalling, so you turn up at things that you think are important and you push with determination on issues that are important.” An ambitious new strategy  It will therefore come as no surprise that the university’s new strategy, which Ciarán launched last month, centres in large part on respect and openness. It also channels his business acumen and skills as an innovator by ensuring that the university complements the region’s strengths in medical technologies, culture and creativity, and climate and oceans. Speaking at the launch, Ciarán described the university as being for the “public good”, belonging to the people. And given that NUI Galway has no gates, this sense of openness is very much part of the university’s cultural fabric in his view.But running a university with 19,000 students is an expensive business, so this public good comes at a high cost. That said, Ciarán is keen to guide the debate away from price and towards value. And given that Ireland and Croatia are viewed as “systems in danger” by a European University Association report published in 2017, this debate couldn’t be more timely. “First and foremost, we must make the argument that universities are for the public good and good for society. After that, society needs to think about how we fund that ambition,” he said. “If the funding doesn’t match that ambition, then we need to find some way to translate that ambition for the third-level sector with a funding model that supports us in an international context.” Life lessons When you devote your life to something, as Ciarán has done, it often becomes difficult to draw a line between the person and the professional. To counter that, Ciarán relies on a Flann O’Brien tale – one he shares with his students regularly. “In The Third Policeman, a policeman cycles the roads of the west of Ireland so often that he becomes part-policeman, part-bicycle,” he said. “For me, the lesson is simple: don’t become the job. Always maintain your personality and joie de vivre, because that’s important.”It will come as no surprise that Ciarán, who has spent decades educating the leaders of the future – and, more recently, leading the educators themselves – has a wealth of advice for fellow Chartered Accountants, colleagues and students alike. He advocates being yourself as this makes for a more comfortable life; he’s a firm believer in trying new things; and he advises everyone to take the time to think and read. But overall, Ciarán returns to the philosophy of his BComm lecturers, Warnock and Collins: “Accounting has a role to play in shaping society and we should be a profession that supports not only the powerful but those on the periphery as well,” he said. “That would be a very good future for everyone in the context of the changes we see in society today.” Ciarán on... His family “Dad and mam had a real view on making a difference, doing your best. And as the youngest of six, I think that was helpful as I grew up with adults and people older than me.” The threat to third-level education “It isn’t about the universities or the staff; it’s actually about our students, their families, about companies and civic society.” Launching UCD’s MA in aviation finance “The idea here is that you work with your hinterland. Dublin is a global hub for aviation finance so the feeling was, let’s include that group and educate the talent pool for the industry.” The potential impact of Brexit “If we position ourselves as the gateway to Europe – Galway in particular and Ireland in general – we can capitalise on student mobility and research opportunities.” Venturing into the unknown “If you try something you’ve never tried before, one of two things will happen. You will either find that you are good at it, or you will find that you’re not – in which case, the sky doesn’t fall in and you learn something and perhaps emerge even stronger from the experience.” Communication “The people aspect of accountancy is often missing. When you are doing audits, you have to ask questions and talk to people. It can be a very people-oriented existence and people too often think of accountancy as not involving people when generally speaking, it does.” Doing the right thing “I make decisions that I think are right, and that makes it easier to sleep at night. The ones that unsettle you are the ones where others convince you, but you don’t quite think it’s the right thing to do.” Logic and morals “Someday, you will have to make a decision that looks entirely logical. You know you should do it, but it has implications for others that you might not be aware of at the outset. Endeavour to find, and consider, that implication or consequence for an individual or group because not everyone is as well off as ourselves.”

Feb 10, 2020
Strategy

In this digital age, data analysis is important to a high-performance culture, but so is trust. Teresa Stapleton discusses how to find the balance. There is a need for a data-driven approach to understand how a business is performing, but capturing, analysing and interpreting large volumes of data is a time-consuming process that can lead to analysis paralysis, slow decision-making and delays in getting work done.  When building a high-performance culture, the key is to find the balance between trust and data, where people feel motivated, engaged and empowered to do their best work and collaborate with colleagues to make the business successful.  Building trust For most people, trust in another person is based on knowing from personal experience or by reputation that someone is reliable. We naturally tend to trust people with a proven track record, who can keep commitments, deliver on time, be open and honest, admit mistakes, and speak up to share concerns. Trust is essential for a leader to stand back and give their team space to get on with the job. When a leader doesn’t trust their team, it inevitably leads to micro-management in order to keep tight control and minimise risk. This approach can be extremely frustrating and demotivating for an individual, and particularly for experienced, competent teams. Micro-management often produces disengaged employees, increased absenteeism and reduced productivity – ultimately impacting bottom line results.  When trust is lacking, it’s important to identify and tackle the root cause behind the trust issues. In some cases, it’s down to personality clashes where people have different beliefs on the best way to get work done. When this is the issue, it really helps to invest in team building exercises to promote collaboration. Managing a new team New managers are often in the tricky position of not knowing if they can rely on their new team while having to depend on them to be successful. This can create an anxious and stressful atmosphere. Taking time to get to know a new team, being clear on expectations and open about how you like to operate are critical to building a solid foundation for a good working relationship. Having the right mix of skills, experience and personality style is critical to the success of any business. This explains why many leaders like to build their own teams or bring people they trust when they take on a new role. However, more often, managers inherit people they wouldn’t have chosen. As a leader, it’s important to keep an open mind and give people the opportunity to prove themselves. As Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”  Situational leadership The most successful leaders adapt their leadership style based on the ability and level of commitment of the person or group, as well as the circumstances. Situational leadership involves evaluating what level of trust versus support is optimal. When managing someone new in a role or with responsibility for critical or high-risk tasks, close oversight is advisable. But, as the person demonstrates that they can perform competently, experienced leaders will adapt their style to give the employee more accountability and independence.   Remote working It’s increasingly common for managers to have employees who work remotely. This requires a hands-off style of management with clearly defined goals and KPIs and regular check-ins to stay connected and aligned on performance. While calls and teleconferencing are great for remote working, it’s still important to plan face-to-face meetings periodically to build the relationship and employee engagement, and to ensure they feel that they are valued members of the team.So, what breaks trust? Failure to deliver expected results, keeping someone in the dark, misaligned goals and priorities, competing for rewards and different personal values are often underlying causes. Whatever the reason, once trust is broken, it is extremely difficult to repair. The key to business success is strong leadership with the ability to set a clear vision, create high-performing teams and promote a culture where people feel trusted, valued and motivated to deliver great results.    Top tips for building trust 1. Get to know your team. Share your background, previous experiences, goals, values, expectations, and ask the team to do likewise. Sharing information on family or interests outside work is also a great way to identify common ground and build relationships. 2. Assess whether you have the right resources. Have you got the right mix of skills, experience and capability on the team to support the current and future needs of the business? Modify your plans, or team, to close gaps and set everyone up to be successful. 3. Set clear expectations. Agree and document clear, concise goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) and expected results. Ensure clarity and alignment on the performance management and rewards process.  4. Build self-awareness and collaborate. Personality profiling tools and workshops enhance self-awareness and provide practical support to help individuals, teams and organisations improve communication, increase productivity and drive results. 5. Stay connected and keep up-to-date. Agree with your team what you should know and how you want to be updated on progress and issues. Check-in to ensure the communication approach is working for everyone and adjust as required. Ensure decision-making authority is clear and protocols for escalating issues to the right levels are defined and understood (e.g. highlight bad news fast, no surprises, etc.) 6. Recognise and reward success. Take the time to thank team members regularly for their contribution and impact. Recognise and reward success and behaviour that demonstrates company values or best practices. Provide honest feedback on performance and coaching to drive improvements. Ensure performance is rewarded fairly and that your team knows they can trust you to represent them well. Teresa Stapleton is an Executive and Career Coach with Stapleton Coaching.

Feb 10, 2020
Personal Development

Dr Eddie Murphy explains how personal values can support and enhance your wellbeing. Personal values are a set of beliefs and qualities by which we strive to live. They are key qualities and psychological concepts that are deeply important to us and our sense of the world. When we live by our values, what we do and how we do things match the internal qualities that are most important to us. Positive psychology Amid the constant stress and activities in our daily lives, it is easy to lose track of what we truly care about and value. Identifying and working to incorporate personal values into our lives can not only be fulfilling, but can also deepen our sense of purpose and meaning. Prof. Martin Seligman, who is known as the father of positive psychology, talks about a life of pleasure, meaning and engagement. Indeed, if you follow my work, you will know that I see meaning and engagement as a dynamo that constantly replenishes our wellbeing. The importance of values  Our values act as an internal compass that guides our direction in life. It is, therefore, important to be aware of what they are and use them to make key decisions. Values are influenced by our social background, family, birth order, generational factors and genetic inheritance to mention just a few. Values serve as your guide, acting as a Garda, judge, doctor, psychologist and social worker. Psychologist Steven Hayes describes values as “chosen life directions” that are “vitalising, uplifting, and empowering”. A value is not merely a goal, but it can be thought of as a continuous process, direction and way of living that helps direct us towards various goals and live a meaningful life. Identify your values It is now time for you to do some work. There are various ways to identify your values including choosing which domains or areas in your life are most important to you, and specifically what you value within each domain. Which areas of your life, and how many you choose, can vary. They can include relationships, career achievement, parenting, self-care, spirituality, community involvement, and education/learning. Take some time to reflect deeply on the areas of your life and ways of living that give you the most meaning, interest and sense of fulfilment. Pick an area and examine how this value is expressed in your current life, including daily activities, lifestyle and relationships. List ways you can make your chosen value more prevalent in your life. These do not need to be major life changes but can be small actions or activities. Now, imagine you are 80 years old, in good health and have fulfilled your life dreams and goals. Your family and friends are planning a testimonial party for you, and your childhood best friend has been asked to write and read a tribute to you. Write the tribute you would want your friend to write. It may be short, long, nostalgic, humorous, biographical or visionary – but it must be responsible. It must capture the spirit and essence of the ideal life you hoped to have lived. As you write this tribute, refer to your core values. Incorporate the essence of these values into the story. Be as realistic, specific and as honest as possible.  Find your purpose Going through life without a sense of our values is like walking into a store and buying a new pair of shoes with our eyes closed: chances are they will be the wrong size, the wrong style and not at all what we wanted. Equally, we may end up with a life that doesn’t suit us, leaves us feeling uncomfortable, dissatisfied, awkward (even in pain), and a life that is more something that just happened to us, rather than something we consciously chose. Discovering our core values is one of the first and most important steps in living authentically. Find your values and re-find your purpose in life.   Members and students can phone CA Support on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294, contact us by email at casupport@ charteredaccountants.ie or visit our website at www.charteredaccountants.ie/casupport. Dr Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist, mental health expert and author.

Feb 10, 2020
Management

Chartered Accountants in management positions can lead the way by encouraging their teams to use data visualisation tools. By Richard Day and Alannah Comerford   In this series, we explore the power of visualisation and data analytics and the benefits to Chartered Accountants at any stage in their career. The FAE syllabus has been updated to include some data analytics tools and techniques, and this will bring all newly qualified Chartered Accountants into contact with Tableau, Alteryx and UIPath. In the December issue, we suggested that visualisation tools provide advantages beyond Excel in analysing data. They represent a game-changer in terms of drilling down into information and unlocking the value in a company’s data. Chartered Accountants in management positions can lead the way by identifying opportunities to derive significant benefits and ensuring that their teams experiment with these techniques. Management reporting The area of management reporting often provides a rich vein for visualisation opportunities. Most teams have some element of such reporting, and there is likely to be a traditional management reporting pack. This pack may contain many pages of information and is likely produced many times over for different business units within an organisation. Pages and analyses are rarely removed from such documents and, as such, they have often grown over several years. This reporting pack may, therefore, represent an unwieldy block of information in the standard tabular format with perhaps a sprinkling of graphs. Incorporating data visualisation would present the opportunity to simplify management reporting by presenting complex information on a reduced number of schedules with the ability to include multiple business units in one presentation. It would also allow the user to drill down into individual business units interactively. It may also be helpful to present information that compares results by business unit, by product or by some other relevant category such as location or customer segment. All of these analyses are possible without visualisation, but delivering them all without making the report interactive would result in huge files with many tabs. The report would become almost as unwieldy as the current versions produced. Visualisation is critical if you wish to include a vast amount of analysis in one simple, easy-to-navigate file. It is always useful to review the information provided in such reports, taking account of why the various elements are needed. Considering the introduction of visualisation could complement a determination to bring clarity and a fresh perspective to collating and reporting the data. This would facilitate the selection of the right types of visuals to meet reporting objectives. Improved use of reporting and dashboards of this type should assist in the analysis of trends and patterns in all aspects of performance, whether financial or operational. It helps managers understand trends and can turn management reports into critical tools for decision-making. Project reporting Given the level of organisational change, there are always projects ongoing. We recommend the introduction of visualisation to the reporting currently used in these projects, from status reporting to issue management. The combination of the visual presentation with the interactive ability to drill down elevates this reporting. Stakeholders can view the overall status in a very speedy fashion and easily focus on issues causing delay or aspects that are of particular interest. Citizen-led analytics The above may encourage managers to introduce data visualisation into their regular reporting, which represents a business-led scenario. We also recommend a citizen-led approach where the team members, and Chartered Accountants in particular, are empowered to use analytics techniques, including visualisation, to improve how regular and ad hoc analytics are carried out day-to-day. This requires the chosen tool for the organisation to be made available to all team members, along with basic training. Managers can be hugely influential in the success or otherwise of this approach, and it represents an excellent opportunity to bring positive change to the team. Management can drive the tone at the top, but most opportunities to use visualisation will be identified by those who routinely compile and present analyses. Groups that share success stories and present their analyses will also contribute to a successful rollout and will prompt others to think about how these techniques could be useful in their area. We could discuss more examples in terms of the possible use of Tableau or similar tools, but we recommend that you make a start – whether you are in management or just starting your career as a Chartered Accountant. In the next issue, we will explore the advantages of manipulating data in a more robust and repeatable way to support the production of these useful visualisations. Richard Day FCA is Partner, Data Analytics & Assurance, at PwC Ireland. Alannah Comerford ACA is Senior Manager, Data Analytics & Assurance, at PwC Ireland.

Feb 10, 2020
Personal Impact

To create a culture free of groupthink, leaders must first make themselves vulnerable, writes Dr Annette Clancy. Have you ever wanted to speak up in a group, but decided that it was better not to? Or have you ever been sure that your co-workers were making a huge mistake, but felt that you couldn’t intervene to voice a dissenting view? If either scenario sounds familiar, you may have been affected by groupthink. The term was coined in 1971 by the psychologist, Irving Janis, who wanted to understand the systematic errors made by teams involved in collective decision-making. Groupthink occurs when people’s desire for cohesiveness and harmony results in faulty decision-making. Two well-known examples of groupthink are the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986. In the Bay of Pigs example, Janis describes the men surrounding John F. Kennedy as “one of the greatest arrays of intellectual talent in the history of American government”. There were individual dissenting voices among those men when President Kennedy gave the order for the invasion. Yet, when brought together, the group dynamic prevented them from disagreeing. The formal investigation into the Challenger Space Shuttle identified a technical fault in the o-ring, which led to the disaster. However, it also referenced “a serious flaw in the decision-making process leading up to the launch”. Concerns about the o-ring had been circulating in NASA months before the accident, but nobody took action. So, how can you spot groupthink in organisations? Janis outlined the following symptoms: 1. Invulnerability Members of the decision-making group share the illusion that they are invulnerable. This leads them to become overly optimistic and to make risky decisions. They don’t pay attention to warning signs. In the case of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Kennedy was under the illusion that he could keep secret the fact that Cuba had been invaded by the United States – even after the news leaked to the media. 2. Rationalisations Victims of groupthink ignore warnings and begin to create a rationale to defend why they ignored the warning in the first place. This entrenched position reinforces the group’s illusion of invulnerability. 3. Morality Victims believe that they are behaving morally and doing the right thing. This allows the group members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions. They create, therefore, a new morality out of their groupthink position. 4. Stereotypes The group splinters and the victims of groupthink stereotype those who are not in their group by denigrating them as stupid or not as good as them. In doing so, they reinforce their own identity. 5. Pressure Victims apply direct and indirect pressure to any member who expresses doubt about the group’s illusions. Uncertainty, individuality and questioning are extinguished. 6. Censorship Members censor their views to conform. 7. The illusion of unanimity Because nobody speaks out, everybody believes that there is unanimous agreement. How to avoid groupthink Janis’s optimal solution was that members of senior teams should rotate the role of critical evaluator. He also added that the director should accept the frank exchange of views. The best way to avoid groupthink is to welcome healthy dissent and disagreement. Conflict isn’t always a bad thing. Assigning somebody to be devil’s advocate can often introduce a welcome alternative perspective. Leaders who want to change a groupthink culture must lead from the front. Nobody is going to make themselves vulnerable or step out on a ledge because a leader has decided that “we’re not doing groupthink from now on”. Changing a culture of groupthink requires deft and sophisticated leadership that is tuned into the emotional tone of the organisation. A leader who makes themselves vulnerable first, who is willing to hear criticism and act upon it, and who makes it safe for others to do so without retribution or punishment will go a long way towards making their organisation groupthink-free.   Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy. Annette’s research focuses on emotions in organisations.

Feb 10, 2020