Beware of cognitive biases and groupthink

Have you read the International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on the organization’s performance in the lead up to the financial and economic crisis?

This report, which was produced by the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office last year, assesses the organization’s surveillance practices over the 2004-2007 period. The evaluation is quite critical, noting that the IMF failed to see the signs leading up to the financial crisis for several reasons, most notably due to the existence of cognitive biases and groupthink and weaknesses related to organizational structure:

  • It was widely believed and asserted throughout the organization that a financial crisis could not occur within a large, advanced economy. This is an interesting cultural phenomenon and speaks to the norms and values shared within the organization.
  • Because the IMF operates in silos, information was not shared between units and departments. The organization was therefore not able to connect the dots and predict the crisis.

In our view, the above example demonstrates how valuable organizational assessments are for organizations. They provide an opportunity to study organizational results and to detect the factors that support or hinder their achievement. In the above case, the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office uncovered organizational practices that significantly affect the organization’s performance. The IMF’s board and senior management both accepted these criticisms and indicated that they would make changes.

The IMF evaluation made use of organizational assessment (OA) as part of an ex post review, though OA is more frequently used in diagnostic assessments. Have you come across other examples where OA is used in a retrospective evaluation design?

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