Julia Middleton looks at the hidden advantages of external training
programmes and argues that they can break down ‘group-think’ and develop new
One of the biggest problems facing UK organisations today is ‘group-think’.
A strong corporate culture is commendable, but if it becomes too strong, when
"the way we do things around here" takes over, it can begin to
stagnate innovation and creativity.
Most people grow up in ‘bubbles’ – both personally and professionally
speaking. On the whole this serves them badly. At a certain point people need
to be able to have an impact beyond their immediate circle, and as effective
professionals, to be able to operate outside their own environment. Group-think
is one of the great shortcomings of this insular existence.
If your senior executives build their confidence around the fact that
everyone agrees with them – or at least thinks like them – they place
themselves in a dangerous situation. They may miss opportunities and be unable
to function outside their bubble where it is inevitable that others will think
differently. They may be able to shine within their own organisations, but can
they command respect in the outside world?
As companies do more business outside their own cultures and communities and
the number of cross-sector partnerships increase, effective leaders must have
the ability to shine in diverse environments.
This is easier said than done. How can we escape group-think and learn to
value – even seek out – diversity?
Certainly part of the answer is to develop new networks of people who think
in a dissimilar way, who have not originated from the same schools or value
systems. People who will challenge what you say, whose respect for you is not
clouded by your position, but on your ability to influence beyond your
Most people’s networks come from a specific industry or social environment
which provide security and support. But these days, as the spectre of
group-think hangs about us, we also need networks that challenge – turbulent
and diverse networks.
The question is, how does one develop those turbulent networks and build
relationships with others outside one’s bubble?
External leadership development programmes can provide a solution. An often
unrecognised benefit of training programmes run outside the organisation is
their ability to provide new networks for participants, networks that can often
serve as an excellent source of new ideas and connections. At Common Purpose,
our leadership development programmes are deliberately designed to bring
together diverse people, especially from across sectors, to offer this
Many companies run their own training programmes. While these provide a good
base of training, they cannot possibly provide the outside exposure that can
prove so valuable to people as they move through their careers.
Having the opportunity to connect with very different kinds of people, who
bring such different assumptions, who question different things and approach
things in very different ways, can have an enormous broadening effect, really
At Common Purpose, we have a fundamental belief in the value of diversity.
This stems from a conviction that real, creative and sustainable answers only
emerge when diverse perspectives are considered.
In a complex world, it is essential to surround oneself with sufficient
diversity to be able to understand and appreciate different angles.
Leaders need to know a broad range of viewpoints so that they can make smart
decisions and avoid being blinkered by group-think. They need to invest time in
developing new and diverse networks that will continue to refresh and challenge
their view of the world.