What To Do?

Jason Zweig noted in the WSJ a few weeks back that groups can make very good and very bad decisions: How Group Decisions End Wrong Footed (April 27).  He cites Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist at Stanford University: “The best groups will be better than their best individual members, and the worst groups will be worse than the worst individual.”

That is very true. Often preoccupied with their own relationships and emotional needs, groups can contaminate their thinking and go off track.  (Those interested in some further examples of this might want to check out my paper, “Corrupt Groups,” which you can get to by clicking the menu on the right.)

But instead of dealing with the real reasons why this happens, Zweig offers a recipe of “proven approaches” to improve decisions.  But that is not likely to work for a group that is really caught up in a destructive process.  They will all too easily convince themselves that they are following the rules and doing it right — until they discover that they got it wrong again.

There is no alternative for a little self-reflection:  Are members really speaking  their minds?  Are unpopular ideas being voiced?  Is everyone participating?  What is not being said?  The Yale sociologist Irving Janis noted the power of Groupthink over 35 years ago, and that is the approach he recommended to counter its effects.

More work, yes, and greater anxiety, as well.  But better outcomes.