Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 13;   March 30, 2011: Indicators of Lock-In: II

Indicators of Lock-In: II

by

When a group of decision makers "locks in" on a choice, they can persist in that course even when others have concluded that the choice is folly. Here's Part II of a set of indicators of lock-in.
Example of an unsecured driver-side floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal in a 2007 Toyota Lexus ES350

Example of an unsecured driver-side floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal in a 2007 Toyota Lexus ES350. In 2009, Toyota recalled approximately 3.9 million vehicles. No investigation to date has uncovered any irregularity in Toyota's recall decision and certainly there is not evidence sufficient to conclude that lock-in played any part in preventing an earlier recall.

However, it is possible that there exists in group decision-making a phenomenon less severe than lock-in that might make organizations sluggish in reaching correct responses to dynamic situations, rather than halting them altogether. Perhaps not "lock-in" but "slog-in." Photo courtesy U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Lock-in occurs in group decision making, when groups engage in, for instance, negotiations, politics, diplomacy, war, management, and problem solving. It happens when groups fail to adapt to changing situations, rejecting or failing to see alternatives to their choices even when those alternatives are clearly superior. Instead, they escalate their commitment to the chosen course.

Knowing the indicators of lock-in can be helpful to anyone who wants to move a group toward alternatives. Here are four indicators relating to the history of the group's decisions.

Path dependence
Although the group's decisions depend on both its composition and its current perceptions of the problem, they also depend on the path the group traveled in arriving at its current position.
The path traveled determines the state of knowledge within the organization, the hires made, the consultants known and trusted, the sites and locations that were developed, the equipment and software acquired, and many more personnel and physical factors. This history can cause decision makers to persist with a solution beyond the point where they would have if they had a different history.
The need for justification
Closely related to path dependence is the need for justification. The need for internal justification can arise when the decision makers have personally supported choices that led to the current situation. By escalating commitment, they hope that the eventual outcome will justify to themselves both the choice they are now making and all their past choices as well.
External justification is similar, except that the audience of the justifying action is the group's perception of others' assessment of the group's performance.
Inflexibility
To those Detecting lock-in in your organization
can be difficult if you're one of
the decision makers
outside the group, inflexibility is both an obvious indicator of lock-in and difficult to understand. For seemingly unfathomable reasons, decision makers reject alternatives that seem promising.
Because seeming inflexible or irrational can be damaging to one's career, groups that adopt inflexible positions do so most often in desperation. They feel beset. They feel that adaptive behavior will make them seem weak, and thereby cause more damage than inflexibility will.
Closure of alternatives
Closure, or exclusion, of alternatives does not present inherent difficulties in achieving high-quality decisions. However, premature closure of alternatives, or continuing exclusion of alternatives in the face of repeated failure, does threaten decision quality.
When a group enforces or accepts closure of alternatives in the face of failure of its chosen course, lock-in is likely in place. One exception: a person or people who have power over the group's decisions can impose closure. In this case, the lock-in has occurred not in the decision-making group, but in the mind of the person executing the closure.

Detecting lock-in in your organization can be difficult if you're one of the decision makers. To practice, use a different organization — your national or local government probably provides some truly rich examples. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: OODA at Work  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenEADXneMSrKHssesOner@ChacpnpnhcWvhqQHxXuKoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Sleeping ducksAppreciate Differences
In group problem solving, diversity of opinion and healthy, reasoned debate ensure that our conclusions take into account all the difficulties we can anticipate. Lock-step thinking — and limited debate — expose us to the risk of unanticipated risk.
Don't start meetings on the hourMastering Meeting Madness
If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
The USS Indianapolis on July 10, 1945, off Mare IslandCoping with Layoff Survival
Your company has just done another round of layoffs, and you survived yet again. This time was the most difficult, because your best pal was laid off, and you're even more fearful for your own job security. How can you cope with survival?
Gut bacteriaMitigating Outsourcing Risks: I
Outsourcing internal processes modifies the usual risk configuration of those processes, but it also creates a special class of risks that are peculiar to the outsourcing relationship. What are some of those risks and what can we do about them?
A spider plant, chlorophytum comosum.What Enough to Do Is Like
Most of us have had way too much to do for so long that "too much to do" has become the new normal. We've forgotten what "enough to do" feels like. Here are some reminders.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinAnd on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrennpTHvxDeBCaLQkUTner@ChacaivoYxhqftWyXoFjoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.