Guard against groupthink with open relationship

There is another important lesson we can learn from the unfortunate City Harvest Church saga.

This has to do with how leaders and members can protect one another from making faulty decisions for the group.

Leadership accountability comes in different forms, depending on the nature and the structure of control of a particular group.

It appears that City Harvest Church runs a tight ship, where its leaders maintain a closed-loop system of accountability by themselves, with the senior pastor holding considerable authority and power in decision-making.

The members appear to have largely entrusted the leadership to serve and accomplish the church's missions and ministry. In such groups, members tend to accept what the leaders say readily.

However, no one can guarantee the fidelity of an individual's integrity. Likewise, no group can ensure the integrity of its leaders. This is the reality check that everyone must be willing to face and live with.

Regardless of its purpose, a group tightly controlled by a select few with a closed-loop system of accountability can be vulnerable to "groupthink" among its members.

Groupthink is a term coined to describe the pressures exerted on members of a group to conform to the larger consensus, leading to faulty decisions because of a deterioration in critical and rational analysis, moral evaluation and reality checks.

Essentially, those involved in groupthink are seen to be compliant, unquestioning and to make the assumption that the leaders are always right. Anyone who questions the credibility or integrity of leaders is severely judged, ostracised and stigmatised as disobedient or lacking submission to authority.

Victims of groupthink typically set aside their rational faculty to think for themselves and instead acquiesce to group consensus.

Truly enlightened leaders must safeguard the group from becoming a closed one that is susceptible to groupthink.

The antidote to groupthink must be to insist on appropriate, accountable relationships for leaders that go beyond the group. Establishing open relationships with stakeholders outside of the organisational framework is a non-negotiable, irreducible safeguard.

History has shown that human nature is incapable of sustaining an unfailing self-check when self-interest overrides public interest.

Instituting legal statutes is one way to mandate the healthy functioning of legally registered entities.

But voluntary submission to a plurality of accountable relationships is the best way to guarantee that groups thrive.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)