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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 15-May-09

 


Friday 15-May-09

Better team decisions

How do groups decide? Sometimes well, sometimes badly. Many minds can combine into a collective wisdom. They can also get it very wrong. Sometimes they just rubber-stamp the proposals of the leader or the loudest voice. Sometimes they seek to protect one another rather than make good decisions as in 'groupthink'. Sometimes they make unwise decisions with wild abandon, as in 'risky shift'.

Researchers Jessica Mesmer-Magnus and Leslie DeChurch did a meta-analysis of 72 other studies, covering 4,795 groups and over 17,000 individuals. They found a common tendency to discuss available information rather than bring out additional knowledge that individuals held. As a result, the groups often made poor decisions based on inadequate information.

Another strange effect is that groups who talked more were found to actually share even less new information. It is as if in order to engage in the social activity of discussion, there is an unwritten rule that members must avoid potential confusion or conflict by sticking to existing shared knowledge. Perhaps this is the pattern derogatively known as a 'talking shop'.

Where groups did perform well was in problem-solving and where 'one right answer' required information from across the team. When formally structured, for example with direct questions to individuals, teams also performed better than working in a loose structure.

The bottom line thus seems to be to manage team discussions carefully, setting objectives and managing the process. Of course this sounds like common sense, but that can be surprisingly uncommon.
 

Reference:
Mesmer-Magnus, J., & DeChurch, L. (2009). Information sharing and team performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94 (2), 535-546


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