Of Zombies and Group Decision Making

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review, Making Dumb Groups Smarter and immediately thought of zombies. More on that connection later.

Group dynamics is a cornerstone of Organizational Development consulting and a core area for my practice.  Work groups and teams (not the same thing) are a necessity in our organizations. We perform better and produce more when we coordinate our efforts and means of work. Yet work groups often fail to produce more than the sum of the individuals. Specifically group decision-making can be a challenge and and too often our decisions are less than the sum of the parts.

More directly, we do not notice that our group decision-making is problematic and our decision-making is flawed. Groupthink is alive and well. We do not realize the psychology at play and (1) our need for cohesion,  (2) the will of the leader, or (3) simply who speaks first (or loudest) determines our group decision. Only later do individuals realize the decision was wrong or not the best course of action and wonder how we went down that road.

I recommend this HBR article for anyone working in groups … ah, nearly all of us. The research is solid and the two authors, Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie, present several great strategies for getting the best from our work groups.

At the end of the article there are two recommendations that really resonate with me. The first is to appoint a Devil’s Advocate where one person takes a contrary view than the rest of the group. As the authors present this is useful only if it is authentic and not artificial or forced.

The second and related recommendation is to have not one person, but a group act as the contrary agent. The so-called “Red Team” works either “to defeat the primary team in a simulated mission” or “construct the strongest possible case against the proposal or plan”.

And thus my connection between group dynamics and zombies.

In the movie World War Z, an Israeli agent tells of how they heard rumors of zombies and worked through the decision-making process to address the threat as crazy as it sounds.

“I was the tenth man. If nine of us with the same information arrived at the exact same conclusion, it’s the duty of the tenth man to disagree. No matter how improbable it may seem, the tenth man has to start thinking with the assumption that the other nine were wrong.”

There you go, group dynamics and decision-making right in the middle of a zombie movie. While real zombies do not exist (right?) this story does serve as a good reminder for us the next time we are working through an important decision as a group.

Who is our Devil’s Advocate?

Should we create a “Red Team”?

Who takes in all the information, and then says, “the zombies are coming.”

What do you think?

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