Learning how to think better in a team decision environment depends upon this skill

For a small business owner whose competitive advantage is their ability to out-think the competition, this is a problem we need to understand better.

And it starts with learning how to think better in a team decision environment. Never just trust your gut.

In this article:

What does it feel like to be wrong?

No, no I'm not asking what it feels like to find out you were wrong; about an incorrect conclusion you jumped to, or the wrong person you hired or supplier you used, no, I'm asking, ‘What does it feel like to be wrong?’

  • For me, it feels just the same way as when I'm right. And that's a problem.

If you’re in business, it doesn't take long to realise the power of teams when working on problems and looking for solutions. Sadly the power of a team-based decision can be a force – whether for good or otherwise – that depends upon the team members, the culture the team's leader allows to exist, and how that team begins their thinking process.

Tips and tricks for Cult & Committee leaders alike

A quick checklist on how to make bad decisions in teams.

  1. Start with the assumption the majority view is the correct view.
  2. Support this by focusing on the majority's focus of attention, too.
  3. Then willingly search out information that corroborates this view.
  4. Be sure to filter everything through a cramped perspective – preferring a narrow and biased way of viewing the issue at hand.
  5. Be committed to avoiding consideration of alternatives.
  6. Look for ways to help convince yourself of the truth of the decision you've been asked to support.
  7. And where possible, seek to reinforce your group dynamic with known or malleable personalities.

Bonus Tip: For best results welcome the ‘most agreeable personalities’. (The more accurate but perhaps impolite definition is 'sycophants').

When you look at the list above you might smile and say ‘of course - this is obviously the best way to get a bad outcome’.

But inside many team discussions, this insight is either not so obvious or the timidity of the team (and the agenda of the leader), may be setting them up for a bad decision. It may even be the wrong decision.

Recognise the invisibility of the bubble effect on your life

It's worth remembering many of us live inside information bubbles characterised by consensus and group-think. Deeply religious, cultural or political upbringings usually serve to reinforce our thinking and usually dictate our choice of friends, colleagues, and people who are logically agreeable to us. Add to this a Social Media bubble algorithm, a dose of Pro-Diseaser's and Twitter-verse flame war, and it's any wonder we can still remember how to make considered decisions.

It’s a very human condition to seek to surround ourselves with comfort, in both things, ideas and personalities. Very rarely do we seek to foster friendships with people with very different viewpoints.

Be honest - not everyone in a group wants your opinion - just your vote

Working on a committee can be a lot of things - sadly you may find you’re required role is more pawn or patron, and that members are routinely groomed into accepting the group's pre-existing agenda.

It's probably not the image we want to consider when thinking of small business leaders. But realise when we’re working with humans unprepared to reflect carefully upon how they’re likely to think in a group environment, the reality that our decision-making processes may be more broken than we like to admit, is equally confronting.

Where you start can determine where you finish

If you're a team leader and need to access the best thinking and insights from your team members - beware the default position of consensus thinking. It can rob a business of unique insights and opportunities when group members first seek comfort over conflict.

Consensus has a mind of its own

Consensus, once in place usually stops all additional thought and reflection. When the majority’s opinion goes unchallenged, we tend not to see additional solutions or opportunities, even those close at hand.

Team leaders don't even have to deliberately create consensus environments in their teams - their actions permitting such an environment just to exist - can also help create it.

The curse of collective timidity

Once team members feel the group answer has been reached, (or provided ahead of time) they either usually suppress any opinion of difference or simply don't go looking for evidence that doesn’t support the group agreement, now unofficially in place.

Call this lazy thinking or call it the result of collective timidity, either way, the quality of the decisions reached, at best - risk being brittle and under-formed, at worst - insufficient to produce a sustainable competitive edge. The end result of starting with consensus is a team loses the skills to see and find the best solutions.

So what's a team leader to do?

There are steps team leaders can take to reduce the inevitable gravitational pull of group-think and consensus thinking in teams.

  • Ask team members to first brainstorm their own ideas privately ahead of time and then submit them in writing before the meeting.
  • Expect unconscious bias and information bubbles fueled by ‘we’ve never done it like this before’ proponents.
  • Require different opinions and information about the problem being discussed.
  • Nominate different team members to champion a deliberately different opinion.
  • Reward diverse opinions and viewpoints.
  • Speak last.

When good intentions are not enough and good practices become better gatekeepers of our integrity

When working within an environment of strong ideas; a committee, an advisory board, or even an accountability group, we’re often unaware of our own mimicry.

We’re even less aware when we’ve started to think like the majority, unaware we’re selecting information that confirms the echo chamber of our good intent, (and bad habits). Simply put, we miss the opportunity to remember what it feels like to be wrong.
Had someone spoken up, the consensus spell could be broken.

Speaking up with a different opinion releases people to think for themselves again. (See my earlier article Dissenters and Troublemakers are not the same thing)

The last word

We all need to use deliberate group habits to grow better high-performing decision-making teams.

While we all find it difficult to speak up at times, especially if we feel we’re less experienced in a particular field, there are learnable skills for team leaders and team members alike to help combat the very human condition of seeking consensus and comfort first. And it starts with remembering what it feels like to be wrong and learning how to think better in a team decision environment.

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