The Fragility of Group Decision-Making

The idea behind the democratic ethos is that decisions should be made by a group as opposed to an individual. Two or more people come together and their minds meet.

Each person shares, without reservation, everything that he or she knows; and this information is cherished by the group as they go through the various options that are available and acceptable.

In reality, however, group decision-making is far more complex; because the group itself is a complex organism. A human being’s willingness to share information is contingent upon several factors: how do we feel about the people whom we are working with? As group members, will we benefit from this exchange or will it harm the collective?

Economists have long held and even taught that decision-making is a rational activity. Human decision-making, however, is an inherently flawed process that often results in sub-optimal outcomes. Why? We do not possess perfect information and we are subject to irrational fears and impulses; and it is not unheard of to make choices that work entirely against our best interests.

Nevertheless, due to the democratic ethos that is taught as an ideal in the education system, we rely on group work and group decision-making. This, in effect, makes us dependent and reliant on each other; and at the same time, group members tend to be reluctant to share what they know.

Prosocial Motivation

Are you willing to sacrifice personal self-gain for the overall good of the group? Is there a desire to learn and a willingness to spend time to deeply understand a phenomenon?

Some individuals are innately predisposed to prosocial motivations as part of their psyche and the value system in which they were raised or indoctrinated. If this prosocial disposition is not present, the likelihood that a team member will sacrifice personal gain for group gain is close to nil.

Small groups are especially susceptible to influences by individual group members. Even one member, with a strong and extreme personality, can have a profound impact on a group’s output and outcome.

At the end of the day, then, the group is only as strong as the persons involved.


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