How to Ruin a Decision-Making Meeting

Last Updated Apr 16, 2010 10:30 AM EDT

Tips to run better decision-making meetingsMeetings are a much hated part of office life but even those that loathe wasting their days in the conference room have to concede that when a number of players need to make a collective decision, they're unavoidable. Funny thing is, scientists have discovered that a common meeting practice is actually hindering our ability to come to quality decisions.
What's the first thing most groups do when they get together to reach a decision? They share their initial thoughts and preferences on the matter under discussion. It's an understandable impulse but entirely counter-productive according to research by professors Andreas Mojzisch and Stefan Schulz-Hardt discussed on the BPS Research Digest blog.
One hundred and eighty students participated in sixty three-person groups tasked with selecting the best among three job candidates. Each group member started off with a unique set of information about the three candidates and the optimum candidate selection could only be reached if group members shared with each other their unique information... groups were far less successful at sharing the necessary information, and therefore at reaching an optimal decision, if they began their session by sharing their initial preferences.... the reason was that sharing initial preferences led group members to pay less attention to the relevant information during group discussion.
Or to translate from the academese (I think), the groups that shared their initial opinions spent so much time bickering they never bothered to fully listen to and absorb the unique perspectives of each participant. The lesson is clear: if you want to make the best decision possible at a meeting, don't start by laying out the battle lines. Instead, focus first on each participant laying out the specific knowledge they bring to the table.

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(Image of boring meeting watch check by poolie, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.