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What's the latest DevOps challenge? A tendency toward groupthink

In order to speed up development and delivery, a DevOps team has to be collaborative. But when does that cross the line into dysfunctional? Expert Gerie Owen explains.

I didn't see this DevOps challenge coming. My DevOps team seems to often be in agreement, with little discussion...

most of the time. Could this be due to groupthink?

Initially, when we think of DevOps and groupthink, it seems like an oxymoron. After all, DevOps is based on a culture of collaboration; DevOps teams bring together specialists from disciplines with different views on what is most important, and this should form the basis for preventing groupthink.

Accordingly, one would think that the tendency of these groups would be to have many lively, productive or, perhaps, even heated discussions, as each team member lobbies for what is most important to the area they represent.

Initially, when we think of DevOps and groupthink, it seems like an oxymoron.

However, since all closely knit teams are susceptible to groupthink, it can certainly happen in DevOps teams. This is definitely a new DevOps challenge.

Groupthink, a term coined by Irving Janus in 1972, is a cultural attitude that implicitly rewards members whose desire for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.

Just like all teams, DevOps team members may have biases and fixed mindsets based on their respective areas of expertise, team members from opposite disciplines may become polarized, and informal leaders may emerge, all of which sets the stage for groupthink. The DevOps challenge here is that team members' mindsets may impede critical thinking, group interaction may amplify individual biases and group discussions may dissolve into deliberation failures.

DevOps team members from different functional specialties may often defer to the expert in a particular realm to solve individual problems. Since DevOps teams are formed to implement continuous integration and deployment, these teams also recognize that they have to solve issues quickly and decisively, and, therefore, may defer to the team member with the most authoritative voice.

You can recognize this groupthink DevOps challenge by looking at your team members' interactions. Specifically, if your team has an illusion of invulnerability; is consistently in agreement, with little discussion; and if there is collective rationalization and self-censorship during meetings and team discussions, it is very likely that your team may be influenced by groupthink.

Next Steps

Where is DevOps 2.0 going to take you?

Taking the pain out of making DevOps work

Struggling with DevOps? Change the culture

This was last published in April 2017

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