The pitfalls of group decision making and how to avoid them

Decision making is one of the many skills experts have identified as crucial when it comes to rebuilding the workplace post-pandemic. One of the key ways to improve group decision-making is to be conscious of groupthink, a scenario in which individuals of a team are afraid to voice their opinions for fear of creating dissent. Groupthink often leads to teams making poor, biased decisions, especially when under stressful conditions. As businesses aim to navigate the pandemic, it is safe to say that stress will be an inherent part of the journey, so leaders, managers, and employees should invest time in learning how to avoid the pitfalls of decision-making.

Keep the size of the team in mind

According to an article in HBR, group size matters when it comes to making an important decision. Research shows that larger groups tend to make decisions that will confirm pre-existing beliefs, meaning that it is more likely for larger groups to fall victim to the confirmation bias. Limiting the size of the group to three to five members is helpful as there are enough members to allow for different perspectives on an issue while keeping the possibility of succumbing to the confirmation bias to a minimum.

This point is especially useful to consider given that working remotely is becoming the norm in business. Not only is it much harder to connect at an interpersonal level in a large group over Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams or other online video conferencing apps but it is also much more difficult to organise from a logistical point of view. Minimising the number of team members makes it easier for leaders and for team members in the context of remote working and improves the quality of the decision that the group makes.

The Benefits of Diverse Teams in Decision Making

The more diverse the backgrounds of individual team members, the more points of view there will be in the group, allowing for a better decision-making process. Heterogeneity in beliefs and thinking promotes critical thinking and is especially useful when groups have to respond to complex issues. It is important to note, however, that homogenous groups are better at making decisions when the task is straight forward and routine. In the context of the pandemic, when businesses are faced with issues that require out-of-the-box thinking, promoting diversity in the workplace is a wise decision. The benefits of diversity do not stop at improved decision making but extend to better productivity, better brand reputation, and many more.

Allow someone to be the Devil’s Advocate

A practical way to encourage critical thinking in group decision-making is to agree to have a member actively playing the ‘devil’s advocate’. Having a person that argues against the consensus of the group makes it possible to identify potential flaws in the decision that was made by the group. Promoting healthy dissent is one of the best ways to avoid groupthink and according to this article in Psychology Today, a useful method for encouraging creative decision-making.

Promote Respectful Communication

Healthy dissent that leads to productive decision-making is only possible through respectful communication. All members of the group should learn to respectfully disagree with one another and allow room for doubts, concerns and potentially unpopular opinions to be voiced. Have a look here for techniques that encourage respectful communication.

Avoid Long-Term Stress

Stress is often one of the main reasons why groups (and individuals for that matter) make poor, biased decisions. Research shows that chronic stress is associated with negative effects of decision making, which is why it is important to put the mental health of all people involved in the running of a company at the core of the workplace. Leaders, managers, employees are all humans and are all prone to stress, especially given the uncertainty society is currently facing. Keeping all channels of communication open among team members and making it a norm to talk about being overly stressed, are just a few ways to create a healthier work environment. And make better decisions, of course.

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