100 Things You Should Know About People: #63 — Group Decision-Making Is Faulty

Picture of People At a MeetingIf your work life is anything like mine, your day is filled with groups meeting by phone or in person and making decisions. Unfortunately research shows that group decision-making has some serious flaws.

The Danger of Group-Think — Andreas Mojzisch and Stefan Schulz-Hardt (2010) presented people with information on prospective job candidates. People who received information on the group’s preferences before reviewing the candidate information, did not review the candidate information fully, and therefore did not make the best decisions. In a memory test they did not remember the most relevant information. The researchers concluded that when a group of people starts a discussion by sharing their initial preferences, they spend less time and less attention on the information that is available outside of the group’s preferences. And they therefore make a less than optimal decision.

The majority start with group discussions — The estimate is that 90% of group discussions start with group members talking about their initial impressions. According to the research this is a poor idea.

But two people can be better than one — The wide receiver catches the football right at the corner of the end-zone. Is it a touchdown or not? Two referees saw the play from two different angles. Are they more likely to make a correct decision if they talk together or if they think and decide individually? Research by Bahador Bahrami shows that “two heads are better than one” IF

a) they talk together, and

b) they are both competent in their knowledge and skills.

Bahrami (2010) found that pairs do better than individuals at making decisions as long as they freely discuss their disagreements, not only about what they saw, but also about how confident they are about what they saw. If they aren’t allowed to freely discuss, and they just give their decision, then the pair does not make better decisions than just an individual would.

What do you think? Do we have too many meetings and too many group decisions? Should we try to work in pairs more instead of groups?

And for those who like to read the research:

Bahrami, B., Olsen, K., Latham, P. E., Roepstorff, A., Rees, G., & Frith, C. D. (2010). Optimally interacting minds. Science 329(5995), 1081-1085 doi:10.1126/science.1185718.

Mojzisch, A., & Schulz-Hardt, S. (2010). Knowing others’ preferences degrades the quality of group decisions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(5), 794-808.

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Posted in decision-making, groups, psychology, research
6 comments on “100 Things You Should Know About People: #63 — Group Decision-Making Is Faulty
  1. What I have noticed as rule in group meetings is that someone, I always try to be that guy, has to have focus on end result and conclusions. Discussion always go too wide and someone needs to get it back.

    So you need to be precise and to keep focus. And I agree, focus on details is hard to preserve and group meetings are best for making strategies and to agree about future roles in upcoming projects.

    At least, these are my personal experiences.

  2. This post really rang a bell. A client of mine has a “second in command”, and they often consult together and arrive at better decisions than they would have made alone – each of them coming to the table with strong expertise in very different areas. Sometimes the client likes to bring a handful of his staff into the meetings, though, and that invariably turns into gridlock!

    A question for you, Susan: how do consultants and advisors fit into all this? Would you recommend bringing them into the picture as the second party, or is the expert input an additional “component” to the two primary decision-makers?

  3. Jan Schwartz says:

    We should absolutely work more in pairs, IMHO. My experience with groups is that they take forever to get to a decision and when they do I don’t think it’s always the best decision. Those in the group who come to it with an agenda just wear the rest of us down until we agree–or disband the group because we couldn’t agree! It’s also true that when working in groups some won’t be bothered to review the information in depth because they assume others will. And as you said in the blog, if everyone does that the likelihood of a bad decision is pretty good.

    I’m all for working in pairs to get the job done. You can then take the decision to a group, if that is necessary, to get some feedback. Take the feedback back to the pair and make the decision.

  4. Dustin H says:

    Thank you for sharing the references… always great to see where I can read more on the topics you share…

  5. I would agree that groups do not bring out the best decisions (or the best of anything) out of people. It’s my experience that one-on-one sessions with a person give you a much more honest, open view of, and input from, that individual. I think it’s rare that you could ever get to really know a person and what they really think, if you only see them in large groups. Dynamics change in a group… A lot of people end up waiting for other people to make their contribution, while downplaying the importance of their own role. This goes for both business meetings and also some social gatherings. There are some exceptions of course…. some people are great in front of groups, while doing poorly in personal relationships and one-on-ones.

  6. Group decision only works if every individual in the group has the same level of competence and experience even if in a different area of expertise. Otherwise it wastes the resources offered by the one who is the real expert. Normally groups are overtaken by someone with a strong and competitive personality who wants to be always the right one.

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