If 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.