Tools for Changing the World

Social psychology for social good

My group makes better decisions than your group

July 11th, 2011

GroupWe’re a social species, we humans, and we like to gather together when it’s time to make important decisions. There’s a sense of comfort in community, as well as a belief that we make better choices when we do so as a team.

Except that, unfortunately, we don’t. Sometimes we make terrible choices as a team.

Here are some of the things we do wrong:

  • We spend most of our time telling each other things that everyone already knows instead of sharing information known only to ourselves
  • Each of us puts in less effort as the group gets larger (as we saw in a previous post)
  • If we know the other group members’ preferences before we discuss the problem, we pay less attention to the available information.

Fortunately, there are several ways to improve your group’s decision-making abilities.

Present information before preferences. Avoid the third error listed above by sharing as much information as possible before group members announce their own decision preferences.

Include more women. One large study found that groups performed a variety of tasks better if they included more women or more individuals with high “social sensitivity” (the ability to recognize other people’s emotions).

Savage Chickens, by Doug SavageLet everyone talk. The same study found that groups in which a few people dominated the conversation didn’t perform as well as groups in which people took turns talking.

Publicly identify your experts. When groups were informed of individual members’ expertise in specific areas at the start of a meeting, members were more likely to share information that wasn’t known to the rest of the group.

Rank your alternatives. Groups told to list their alternatives in order from best to worst tended to make better decisions than did groups told to pick the best alternative.

Discuss reasons for disagreements. Teams of two people were found to make better decisions than individuals did – but only if they communicated about why they disagreed and how sure they were of their own opinions.

Don’t play “devil’s advocate”. While real disagreement can spur original thinking and attitude change, playing the devil’s advocate can make people dig their heels in and defend their original position.

There are enough tips here that most of us could benefit from one or two, so I expect you all to get out there and start improving your team decision processes.

Because it’s not like the world couldn’t use a few better decisions here and there. Maybe more than a few.

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