Allen Woo discusses how to strategize in a group to make the best decisions

Different experts argue that there are both positive and negative aspects to group decision-making. The main risks include falling into groupthink and other biases that can distort the process and the end result. But bringing several minds together to solve a problem has its advantages. To utilize the positive aspects and increase the chances of a team achieving satisfactory results, Allen Woo, a specialist in business strategy, recommends adopting certain suggestions. 

He recommends forming a small group when important decisions need to be made. Large teams tend to make decisions guided by biases more often. For example, research shows that groups of seven or more members are more prone to confirmation bias. 

This is confirmed by Woo, who hads, “The larger the group, the greater the tendency of its members to evaluate information in a way that matches pre-existing information and beliefs.” By keeping the group between three to five members, you can reduce the negative effects and gain the benefits of multiple perspectives.

Try as much as possible to choose a heterogeneous group. Several studies have shown that groups formed by people with homogeneous opinions have a greater tendency towards biased decision-making. 

Teams with different points of view can more effectively neutralize biases. But context also matters. When attempting to complete tasks that require different skills and perspectives, such as conducting research or designing processes, heterogeneous groups may perform better than homogeneous groups. 

Conversely, if dealing with repetitive tasks that require convergent thinking and structured environments, such as adhering to safety procedures in healthcare, homogeneous groups perform better. Therefore, the leader must first analyze the nature of the decision to be made before assembling an appropriate team.  

It is also advisable to appoint one or two official dissenters. One way to counteract groupthink tendencies in teams is to appoint a “devil’s advocate” to challenge the group’s decision-making process. In teams of more than seven people, two people are desirable to avoid isolation.

“The group’s collective knowledge is only an asset if it is used correctly,” assures Woo. “To get the most out of the various competencies of the team, it is advisable to gather opinions individually before people share their ideas in the group. In this way, in addition to limiting groupthink, it also reduces the influence of perceived seniority, supposed experts or hidden agendas.”

Seek to facilitate a safe space to express ideas. If you want people to share their opinions and engage in constructive dissent, they need to feel they can speak freely without fear of reprisal. To do this, the leader must encourage reflection and discussion of divergent opinions, possible doubts and experiences in a respectful manner. 

Experts can help groups make better-informed decisions, but blind reliance on their opinions can make the team more susceptible to biases that can distort the outcome. Research shows that making them part of the decision-making process can cause the group to conform to the expert’s opinions or make overconfident judgments. It is therefore advisable to invite experts to offer their opinions on a well-defined topic, positioning them as an external party to the group.

The outcome of the decision can be influenced by elements as simple as the choice of the group’s messenger. It is often observed that a single individual is responsible for selecting the right team members, maintaining the schedule and recording the results. In these cases, individual biases can influence a team’s decision. 

Several studies show that to counteract these negative tendencies, it is advisable to assign different roles to team members based on their experience and expertise. Moreover, all team members should feel responsible for the decision-making process and the final outcome. 

One way to do this is to ask the team to sign a joint responsibility agreement at the beginning. This facilitates a more equitable distribution of power and a more open exchange of ideas.