One of the most critical responsibilities of managers is to make and carry out decisions. Some decisions are best made by the manager alone but many more are best arrived at with others involved. The main danger of coming to multi-participant decisions without a solid process in place is “group think.” But the best managers are expert at effective group decision making.
What Is Group Think?
When it comes to effective decision making, group think is defined as the practice of thinking or making collective decisions in a way that attempts to prevent creativity or individual responsibility. When members of a group strive for harmony or conformity, they risk an irrational outcome in favor of group loyalty. For that reason, most of our new manager training programs have a core module on effective decision making.
A Tragic Example of Group Think
The space shuttle Challenger lifted off on January 28, 1986. Tragically it exploded within seconds and 7 astronauts were killed. Investigators found that a series of poor decisions led to the disaster. The day before launch, NASA flight managers were warned that the O-ring seals on the booster rockets might fail in the freezing temperatures anticipated for liftoff day. NASA discounted the warnings of engineers and fell hostage to group think. None of the objections reached flight readiness reviewers. The launch went ahead as scheduled.
Group Think in a Business Setting
Group think in a business setting can cause managers to override potential problems as they work toward consensus thinking. This can be dangerous but is less likely to be problematic when group members are encouraged to make suggestions, offer alternatives, and feel safe doing so.
6 Immediate Steps for Effective Group Decision Making
Making effective decisions as a group requires that you avoid group think and invite differing opinions. The key is to provide a safe environment for dissenters to speak up. This means that participants treat each other with respect and acknowledge that they have a common goal.
That said, effective group decision making is enhanced by:
Especially when decisions are complex, it helps to have individuals with diverse points of view and skills. When the decision making team is made up of people with different perspectives, managers can more effectively offset biases.
- Small Size
Decisions can be made more quickly within a small group. The ideal size is between three to five. Studies show that when you have seven or more, the group is more likely to be influenced by pre-existing beliefs and information.
- A Devil’s Advocate
To ensure that you have someone to challenge the group’s decision making process, appoint a devil’s advocate or what some call a Red Team. Their job is to voice differing opinions and force the group to consider alternative solutions, scenarios, and points of view.
- Soliciting Opinions in Advance
One way to avoid giving too much credence to hidden agendas, rank, or role, is to anonymously collect individual views ahead of the meeting. Each idea will then be shared and evaluated without bias.
- Keeping Experts in Their Place
Certainly the view of experts on a decision can be very valuable. But expert opinion can have an out-sized influence on the decision-making outcome. Invite experts when needed but keep them as informed outsiders when the decision-making group assembles.
- Sharing Responsibility
It is best if all members of the decision-making group feel accountable for the process and the outcome. Selection of group members, planning the agenda, and communicating the final decision should not be assigned to just one individual but shared according to group members’ expertise.
The Bottom Line
Group think is a phenomenon that should not be welcome in your decision-making process – especially when the stakes are high. Are you doing all you can as a manager to guard against its pitfalls?
To learn more about making better decisions with your team, download 3 Underutilized Steps to Set Your Team Up to Make Better Decisions