Groupthink and risk-aversion

Dame Kate Bingham has accused the civil service of groupthink and risk aversion. The Times report:

Whitehall is obsessive about avoiding blame and paranoid about media controversy while the promotions system fails to weed out poor performers or reward those with specialist knowledge, Bingham argues.

In criticisms that echo those of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, Bingham writes in The Times today: “The machinery of government is dominated by process, rather than outcome, causing delay and inertia. There is an obsessive fear of personal error and criticism, a culture of groupthink and risk aversion that stifles initiative and encourages foot-dragging.”

It is an exchange that, in essence, seems to follow all the same lines as this clip from Yes, Prime Minister:

Civil Service obsession with process and means comes, she argues, at the expense of effective outcomes and ends.

There is something of this in the air in Conservative Evangelicalism. We have our own groupthink that can lead us to insist on all sorts of things that the Bible doesn’t necessarily demand of us. And we can be quite poor at recognising the freedom of others to act differently to us.

Our groupthink can come from our majority culture too. As has been noted many times, we are (largely) drawn from the same ethnic and class backgrounds. A lot of groupthink persists around the sins of our majority culture. Blind spots abound.

Not unlike the civil service, we can even end up obsessing about personal failure and criticism. The fear of looking foolish can drive us more than a desire to do as Christ commanded. We can be risk-averse in our evangelism and so fearful of failure that we never actually get round to doing it at all. The same can often be said of our church planting. Unless we can show that there is little chance of failure, we can be slow to get about doing it at all.

None of this is to say processes are unimportant. Nor is it to say that outcome should necessarily drive everything we do (depending on what we mean by that). Ultimately, we must be driven by faithfulness to Christ. That is the outcome we should be aiming for.

If we are aiming for faithfulness, that should have an impact on our desire to question our biases. It should have an impact on what risks we are willing to take. It should have an effect on our desire to do things differently, within the boundaries laid by scripture, that than our traditional and cultural ones that we all too easily fall into.

Could it be that we are more bound by groupthink and processes – driven on more by fear of personal failure and risk-aversion – than we care to admit?