Get a fresh perspective: Don’t allow groupthink to set in

Family Business

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In CBS’ hit series “Blue Bloods,” the press and the public refer to the New York City Police Department as the family business.

Frank “Francis” Reagan, the police commissioner, serves as the chief executive officer of the business. His two sons, daughter and grandchildren form the board of directors, while the past commissioner, the grandfather, functions as the chairman emeritus. The company’s board room is the grandfather’s dining room and major decisions are discussed and made at Sunday dinner. During dinner, each member’s opinions are addressed and discussed in-depth – even those of the grandchildren.

Are these interactions at the Sunday dinner table reflective of reality or are they part of a well scripted series about a family rooted in many generations of public service? We acknowledge that entrepreneurs live their business 24/7/365 and do not leave the business’ concerns at the office at the end of the day. They bring them home. In the relaxed atmosphere of the family abode, they reflect on the day’s transactions, challenges and potential solutions with their wives, husbands and children.

Holding these family business meetings without including non-family members promotes the potential for “groupthink,” a phenomenon I discussed in an earlier BizTimes article. This is where the tendency to support the head of a business or family is part of the culture of the group. As a group, they convince each other they are right in their choice of solutions to the problems facing the business or family.

In “Blue Bloods,” when the older brother, Danny, and his younger brother, Jamie, disagree on how to handle a case, their partners and superiors on the force step in with the “reality” speech. This prevents groupthink and gets them to reconsider their initial views of the situation. Without these outside influences, they could convince each other that their initial interpretations were correct and take an inappropriate course of action.

During their weekly Sunday dinners, the commissioner’s daughter, who serves as an assistant district attorney, plays “devil’s advocate” and will give the reality speech when she feels it is needed. Her teenage daughter, a college freshman, adds another perspective by asking very pointed moral questions. The father and grandfather feel they view the problem with older, wiser eyes. Many times, the three generations clash over the problem at hand and cannot reach a consensus. In order to break the impasse, the father, the current commissioner, plays the “legitimate power” card and ceases all dissent.

In other episodes, the commissioner’s strategies are challenged by his deputy chief of public information, who points out the downside risks to his proposed course of action. Together they play out numerous scenarios until they can agree on one that best addresses the problem before them.

These examples stress the importance of having someone who can provide an “outside the box” perspective which can prevent the “my way or the highway” behavior that negatively impacts future problem-solving discussions. Outside counsel, whether provided by a business professional, lawyer or accountant, is critical to a business’ success. Family business leaders who exhibit complete control over decision-making thwart the growth of the business and of the future generations. These family business leaders need to cultivate, not control, the next generation of leaders and permit them to influence and make decisions, while experiencing success as well as failure.

-Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president of SMA LLC and The Negotiating Edge. He leads a group that provides services in the areas of strategic planning, negotiation training and conflict resolution, with offices in Fox Point and Scottsdale, Ariz. He can be reached at (414) 403-2942 or at Csilve1013@aol.com.

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He was a senior professor at DeVry's Keller Graduate School in Wisconsin. Cary has published articles in periodicals and on the Internet. He recently published first book with Dr. Larry Waldman, "Overcoming Your NegotiaPhobia". Cary holds MBAs from L I U’s Arthur T. Roth School of Business. Cary has a BA from CUNY, Queens College. He has certificates in Negotiation from Harvard’s PON and in Labor and Employment Law from Marquette University.

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