A reporter asked the farmer, “How is your corn?” The farmer replied, “I didn’t plant any.” “Really?” asked the reporter. “I thought this was corn country.” “Some say it is,” said the farmer. “But I was afraid we might not see enough rain this year.” “Well, how about your beans? How are they doing?” said the reporter. “Didn’t plant any beans this year,” the farmer said. “I was afraid of disease.” “Well, then,” the reporter asked, “what did you plant?” “Nothing,” said the farmer, “I wanted to play it safe.”
While some people call it analysis paralysis, some call it the fear of making the wrong decision. Most people, however, ultimately realize by doing nothing, that is exactly what happens; nothing. Decisions have to be made everyday of our lives. Some are more important than others. It is, traditionally, more difficult to make individual decisions than as a group, since group interactions tend to bring more perspectives and context to the table.When it comes to making better decisions, the group dynamics can provide more clarity or end up as an abysmal failure. Obviously, better decisions are the objective.
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Torben Emmerling and Duncan Rooders, both entrepreneurs in their own rights, share their strategies for making better group decisions. Interestingly enough, they introduce the concept of a ‘strategic dissenter’; someone who is given the assignment of taking the adversarial position in the decision making process. Based on their experience, they share seven specific strategies to follow, as a group, that could help you make better decisions.
-Use a small group for important decisions. Emmerling and Rooders feel that bigger groups result in making more “biased decisions”. They go on to cite research which “shows that groups with seven or more members are more susceptible to confirmation bias. The larger the group, the greater the tendency for its members to research and evaluate information in a way that is consistent with pre-existing beliefs. By keeping the group to between three and five people, a size that people naturally gravitate toward when interacting, you can reduce these negative effects while still benefitting from multiple perspectives.
-Use a group of different personalities as opposed to a group of similar people. In other words, the authors say, “groups consisting of individuals with homogeneous opinions and beliefs have a greater tendency toward biased decision making. Teams that have potentially opposing points of view can more effectively counter biases.” Context with reference to the decision being made is critical. Homogenous groups function better with repetitive tasks. Complex decisions, on the other hand, really need those different perspectives.
-Assign someone an adversarial role. The antagonist would be asked to serve as the counterbalance to the prevailing position. Once again, the authors cite research which “shows that empowering at least one person with the right to challenge the team’s decision making process can lead to significant improvements in decision quality and outcomes.”
-Gather opinions separately. Emmerling and Rooders suggest obtaining individual opinions in advance of the team meeting to “counter biases and resist groupthink.”
Further, they say “This process also makes sure that perceived seniority, alleged expertise, or hidden agendas don’t play a role in what the group decides to do.”
-Create a way for people to speak freely without a fear of reprisal. The authors suggest this approach is not easy, but they do suggest three ways to approach it.
“First, focus feedback on the decision or discussed strategy, not on the individual.
Second, express comments as a suggestion, not a mandate. Third, express feedback in a away that shows you empathize with and appreciate the individuals working toward your joint goal.”
-Relying on experts can be problematic. Expertise, interestingly enough, is a two-edged sword. It can help people make more informed decisions. But, it can also place “blind trust in expert opinions” that could result in too much bias in making the final decision. Citing further research they say, “Therefore, invite experts to provide their opinion on a clearly defined topic, and position them as informed outsiders in relation to the group.”
-Assign various roles for the members of the group, but jointly ‘own’ the decision.
A final consideration mentioned by the authors is to have everyone in the group
“sign a joint responsibility statement at the outset, leading to a more balanced distribution of power and a more open exchange of ideas.”
Regardless of how you approach decision making in your business, there are always new and different ways to consider in order to make a more informed decision. To help you grow your business, consider trying new ways as part of the process.