Your teams are less effective than you think…

Effective teams have good decision-making processes based on evidence and critical thinking. Most teams aren’t effective decision-makers. One of the most profound ways to improve team decision-making is to ensure that all of the information held by members is on the table.

Research from the March 2012 issue of Administrative Sciences Quarterly suggests that teams under performance pressure demonstrate several limiting behaviours:

Results reveal four limiting team processes: (1) a drive toward consensus, (2) a focus on common knowledge, (3) a shift from learning to project completion, and (4) increased conformity to the status hierarchy.

Teams tend to focus on information that is known by the entire team, rather than information known by only one team member. This is likely because it is easier to integrate shared information into the group’s picture of the situation, rather than domain specific information (e.g. specialized knowledge only known by one person).  This bias toward shared information speeds up the process of deciding and executing.  But it often misses critical pieces of information.

This came home to me loud and clear last year in my business in leadership class. The students were assigned to groups, and each student was provided with various bits and pieces of information about three potential candidates for the presidency of a small university. Each student had some information that was shared by everyone, while other information was unique to that student. The groups were given 40 minutes to discuss the information and recommend a candidate for the position.  But there was a hitch. One of the three candidates has much more positive information than the other two; however, this positive information was not shared by all group members, but held by different individuals in the group.

Not one of the groups recommended the strongest candidate.  Observers noted that the process of soliciting information used by the groups was random, that less than half of the available information was presented, that unique info was mentioned far less often, and was more likely to be dismissed or ignored than the shared information.

The students were shocked. They thought they were using and effective decision-making process. Yet they didn’t gather all of the information that was available to them. They didn’t evaluate the quality or relevance of the information.

Bottom Line: Good teams have explicit processes for collecting and evaluating evidence before they make their decisions, to ensure that all of the information, shared or not, is on the table. They regularly check to ensure both adherence and effectiveness of their processes.  Are your team’s decision-making processes explicit and effective?

Source: Management Ink Blog. “Performance Pressure as a Double Edged Sword”.  Retrieved May 31, 2012


5 replies »

  1. Thanks for this Colleen. The experiences you describe from the classroom mirror closely the dynamics I see in the boardroom. It’s different dysfunction from different angles. Too many leaders abdicate their responsibility and drive for consensus. Too many team members submit to a hierarchy that the boss doesn’t necessarily impose. Improving decision making is a very worthy pursuit!

    • I’m on a search for a good decision-making check list for people to use as a guide to group decision-making. I’ll let you know if I find something.

  2. I agree too – I see true discussions or explorations shut down in many business “teams” where group process is not recognised or used. One of the models I find useful is an adaptation of Belbin’s whereby the group must go through a diverge/converge stage before they can go on to develop an action plan with measurable metrics.
    Thanks for sharing some great thinking Colleen.

  3. I agree 100%. This happens regularly and it can be very damaging – good decisions aren’t made, and the individuals with unique knowledge are shut down and become disengaged. Watch “12 Angry Men” for the dangers of trying to reach “consensus” too soon. Don’t shut down dissenting voices!

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