This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
Managers often need to reach decisions as a part of a team; either as:
- a member of a management team
- a facilitator of their own team
In both cases, it will serve you well to understand some of the do’s and don’ts of team decision-making*.
In the 1970s, the social psychologist Irving Janis examined how groups make decisions. He found that the group’s dynamic often inhibits exploration of alternatives. People find disagreement uncomfortable, so the group seeks consensus before it is properly ready. As the group approaches consensus, dissenting voices are rejected (and, indeed, often self-censored). Janis said:
‘Concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive group that it
tends to over-ride realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action.’
When we fall prey to Group Think, decisions tend to be based on ‘what we all know’ – members feel inhibited from challenging the consensus and relevant information, ideas, challenges are not fully introduced.
The group tends to a higher collective confidence in a decision than individuals have in the same decision made individually. Groups tend to endorse higher risk decisions than the individuals would – perhaps due to the degree of confidence resulting in group members agreeing to decisions that they would not make as individuals. This is called Risky Shift’.
Other features of Poor Group Decision-Making
People with more extreme positions are more likely than others to have clear arguments supporting their positions and are also most likely to voice them. This enhances risky shift.
The order in which people speak can also affect the course of a discussion. Earlier comments are more influential in framing the discussion and moulding opinions.
Once people have expressed an opinion in a group, it can be hard, psychologically, for them to change their mind.
Charismatic, authoritative and trusted individuals can also skew the debate around their perspectives – which will not always be objective or ‘right’.
Finally, it takes time for a group to discuss a topic and time is often at a premium. There will be pressure to curtail discussion and move to a decision.
Towards Better Group Decisions
- Start with a diverse team.
- Don’t let leaders, experts or charismatic individuals state their opinions or preference up front
- Start with a round robin of facts, data and evidence. Follow up with another round robin of comments, questions and interpretations of that evidence. This forms a solid base for discussions.
- If you must take a vote, put it off until after discussion and then ideally, do a secret ballot to establish the balance.
- Appoint a devil’s advocate to find flaws in data and arguments.
- Before a decision is finalised, ask everyone to take the position of a critical evaluator and look for errors, flaws and risks.
- Divide the team into subgroups to discuss the issues, and have them debate the decision.
- Invite outsiders into the team to create greater diversity of thinking and overcome prejudices and confirmation bias.
- Give all team members equal access to raw data, so they can reanalyse it for themselves.
- Facilitate the discussion to ensure every voice is heard and respected – even the least senior and least forceful members of the group. If they deserve their place in the group, consider their perspectives to be of equal value.
* Grammatical Note
To apostrophise do’s or not?
- In favour of not apostrophising is that it is neither a contraction nor a possessive term, suggesting that there is no good grammatical reason for introducing an apostrophe
- In favour of the apostrophe is the core function of punctuation to improve readability. The apostrophe stops it being dos and don’ts.
We sometimes forget that grammatical and punctuation ‘rules’ evolved to codify standard usages, but that language is fluid and grammar must serve the primary purpose of aiding communication.
By the way, you’ll see that I did not apostrophise 1970s.
If you think I should either have written dos, or found an alternative (thus subordinating words and meaning to style and correctness)… Sorry.