Making Dumb Groups Smarter

Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie writing for the Harvard Business Review:

A smaller but nonetheless substantial body of research—some of it our own—has focused on the decision-making strengths and weaknesses of groups and teams. But little of this work has trickled into the public consciousness, and it has yet to have a noticeable effect on actual practice. It’s time for that to change. We aim to bring behavioral research into direct contact with the question of group performance—to describe the main ways in which groups go astray and to offer some simple suggestions for improvement.

Here are a few takeaways for anyone who frequently facilitates group decision-making:

  1. Keep your opinion to yourself, especially at the start, if you are interested in soliciting diverse opinions from the group.
  2. Be clear of a problem-solving or critical-thinking outcome (rather than one of group cohesion or collegiality) by emphasizing a need for information disclosure.
  3. Emphasize the importance and implications of the group's decision and de-emphasize any apparent gain from individual contributions.
  4. Disclose roles by telling the group who is at the table and why.
  5. For groups that may otherwise be too similar in their opinions, assign a devil's advocate. Be wary of this excercise, however as it can become little more than a game.
  6. For high-stakes decision-making, construct a "Red Team:" a group of individuals who were not part of the original team brought together For the purpose of finding mistakes and exploit vulnerabilities in the plan.