How to Improve Group Decision Making

Last Updated Apr 7, 2009 10:11 AM EDT

  • The Find: Two (or more) heads may be better than one when an important decision must be made, but research reveals that groups often go about making decisions less effectively than they could.
  • The Source: The Research Digest blog of the British Psychological Society.
The Takeaway: Psychologists agree that diverse groups of people with a variety of areas of expertise will almost always make better decisions than a lone individual, with one big caveat: their decision making process must be efficient. A new analysis of 72 existing studies, involving 4,795 groups and more than 17,000 individuals, however, reveals that groups are often inefficient in their decision making and also offers a sense of what can be done to improve how groups reach an informed consensus. Ironically, the answer may be to talk less:
Groups tend to spend most of their time discussing the information shared by members, which is therefore redundant, rather than discussing information known only to one or a minority of members. This is important because those groups that do share unique information tend to make better decisions.... Another important factor is how much group members talk to each other. Ironically... groups that talked more tended to share less unique information.
University of North Carolina researcher Jessica Mesmer-Magnus explains: "teams who talk more amongst themselves aren't necessarily sharing useful information.... it's more important what the teams are talking about, than how much they are talking." So how can managers ensure their teams talk the right way about the right things? First, make sure you don't waste time going over what everyone already knows. Second, the research suggests that "a highly structured, more focused method of discussion" such as brainwriting will pay dividends in the form of higher quality decisions making.

(Image of group decision making in progress by Larsz, CC 2.0)

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