In the last blog post I talked about how groups end up making faulty decisions. How many times have you been part of a group discussion and decision-making process and there is one person who is dominating the conversation and the decision. Just because decisions are made in a group setting doesn’t mean that the entire group really made the decision. Many people give up in the presence of one or more dominant group members, and may not speak up at all.
Why does the leader become the leader? — Anderson and Kilduff (2009) researched group decision-making. They formed groups of four students each and had them solve math problems from the GMAT (a standardized test for admission to graduate business school programs).
Everyone agrees who the leader is – During the problem solving session the researchers videotaped the group conversations and reviewed them later to decide who was the leader of each group. They had multiple sets of observers view the videos to see if there was consensus about who the leaders were. They also asked the people in the groups who they thought was the leader of their group. Everyone agreed on who the leader was in each group. Before the groups started, everyone filled out a questionnaire to measure level of dominance. As you might imagine, the leaders had all scored high on the dominance measure. But that still doesn’t say how they became leaders. Were they the people with the best math SAT scores? (No). Did they bully everyone else into letting them be the leader? (No).
The leaders speak first – For 94% of the problems the group’s final answer was the first answer that was proposed, and the people with the dominant personalities were the ones that spoke up first.
The dangers of focus groups – This is one reason why I am skeptical about focus groups for user research (as opposed to one-on-one interviews or user testing).
What do you think? Do you use focus groups?
And for those of you who like to read the research:
Anderson, Cameron & Kilduff, G. (2009). Why do dominant personalities attain influence in face-to-face groups? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(2), 491-503.