If two heads are better than one, surely five would be too? Not necessarily, at least not when it comes to decision-making.
We tend to assume that groups make better decisions than individuals. Research shows that this isn’t always the case. More often not, because of the way group dynamics are, they fall into the trap of making worse decisions than they would if they were working alone.
Considering how integral groups (more specifically, teamwork) are to organisational success, this is cause for concern. Of course, eliminating group work from decision-making processes is not an option. For better or for worse, each of us has to learn how to work better together in a team.
In this context, better team performance involves rectifying the underlying causes of bad decision-making. With that in mind, here are eight reasons why groups can make worse decisions than individuals.
P.S. Arm yourself today with the requisite tools to improve your team’s decision-making processes with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on facilitating effective communication and engagement at the workplace!
The great paradox of group participation is that only 20% of the group contribute to 80% of it. For a host of different reasons, group members vary in how willing and able they are to take part in group discussions fully.
Importantly, if not all group members are participating equally In the deliberation process, it lowers the quality of the decisions made. Not only will there be less information contributed to group discussions, but the dominant good members are likelier to steer the debate in predictable and narrow ways. There are several reasons for this:
One of the biggest reasons why people might engage in self-censorship during group discussions is the fear of being judged. If they feel as though their opinions are less valuable or that they don’t have anything useful to contribute, they’re likelier to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Introverts, for example, may be hesitant to speak up because they tend to be more reserved by nature. Similarly, someone with low self-esteem or self-efficacy might not see the value in speaking out, so they would intentionally let others dominate the discussion.
In some cases, there could be one or two exceptionally talented or dedicated members within the team. If there’s a significant enough disparity between them and the others, it may result in complacency.
The others may feel treat the competent members as security blankets for the team’s performance; as long as the smartest or the most hardworking one is around, the rest of them can get away with not doing as much work or participating less in general.
Every group has one: that person who intentionally or unintentionally hogs airtime for himself or herself.
Sometimes it’s because of personality differences; an extrovert may end up doing most of the talking in a group discussion, not out of a misplaced arrogance but simply because being outspoken comes more naturally to them.
On the other hand, there are those who over-value their abilities, and often want to control the group. They’re likelier to interrupt or talk over the others because they feel they know best. If they think they’re being overshadowed, they may even wholly silence the others. In some cases, this may be a team leader who only wants to make himself heard instead of letting everyone have an equal say during meetings.
Office politics can also interfere with effective decision-making. For example, if there are visible cliques within a team, it might adversely affect how group decisions are made.
Team members who feel socially excluded won’t be motivated to participate meaningfully in discussions. Worse, feeling left out can make them want to compulsively disagree and bring down other team members for no reason other than pure spite and resentment.
Groupthink is one of the greatest obstacles to effective group decision-making. When people get together, they naturally veer towards decisions that preserve the group’s unity and cohesion. Hence, they unconsciously hold back from voicing dissenting opinions or suggesting more alternatives.
Consequently, the group tends to arrive at a particular consensus prematurely and without fully taking into account every possible aspect or perspective in the discussion.
It’s one thing to have healthy competition that creates beneficial friction for a team’s performance. Left unfettered, though, nascent friction between group members can grow and seep into counterproductive decision-making which thwarts the team’s collaborative efforts. Here’s why:
Frequent disagreements about task processes can severely mar the effectiveness of team decision-making.
It’s not uncommon to disagree on when a deadline should be set, who should take charge of particular follow-up items after a meeting, or when the next meeting should be. Most of the time, though, these disagreements are more about underlying tensions that are already present within a group rather than about the actual issue at hand.
For example, two group members might disagree on who should be in charge of designing marketing collaterals. One thinks that he should be in charge of it because he’s the most experienced. Another feels that she should be given a chance to prove herself despite having less design experience. The bigger issue here is that the former thinks that the team isn’t respecting his expertise, while the latter feels that everyone is unfairly biased against her.
Mutual distrust can be very persistent and toxic, regardless of how long a team has been working together. If people don’t trust each other to put the team’s interests above their own, they’ll be constantly suspicious of each others’ vested interests every time someone puts forward a suggestion or alternative.
Subsequently, they end up making decisions that aren’t about maximising team efficiency or productivity. Instead, they focus on how best to sabotage or undermine one another in the interest of self-preservation.
Ultimately, all of the above factors boil down to psychological safety. Teams that feel safe around one another less likely to fear being judged, or to be persistently mistrustful.
They’re also likelier to be more accommodating to interpersonal differences and to be more inclusive in their dynamics.
Additionally, when team members feel safe with one another, they can also be less likely to engage in social loafing; genuine emotional and social investments in working relationships act as a protective factor against slacking off. If you adore your group members, you won’t want to let them down by withholding effort or participation in the group.