We rely upon groups for much in our businesses. They are vital to success. Yet, what makes them valuable also makes them prone to group decision making failures.
These failures occur on three broad levels within the hierarchy of groups. Each level emits a sign that group decision making failures are likely. These signs tell us that humans are corrupting the decision making processes. The processes will not rescue the group.
Three Decision Making Levels within Groups
The three broad decision making levels in groups are strategists, allocators and implementers. Strategists make the top-level decisions. They set strategy, policy, direction and general budgets. Allocators make the mid-level decisions. They commit resources. Implementers make the frontline decisions. They tackle the details.
There are also assessments and feedback. Implementers give it to the Allocators. In turn they give it to the Strategists. Assessments go on all levels of this feedback.
Three Signs of Corruption in Decision Making Processes
Each level of group decision making has a sign that failure is highly likely. Group decision making failures begin with overpromising by strategists. This could be from personal factors, lack of knowledge, biased data plus many others.
This overpromising ignites a sense of urgency. This causes the allocators to overcommit resources, to commit too soon or both. This creates a sunk-cost trap.
The overpromising and overcommitting puts implementers under extreme stress. Even under normal conditions people tend to be too rosy about their timetables and results. Under stress, this tendency becomes even worse. They also become more dishonest.
The Nature of Group Decision Making Failures
These signs sound simple to spot and avoid. Two biases blind people though:
- Blaming the top
- Focusing on a single, big cause
Leaders do have responsibility. There are sycophants in every organization though. They will say whatever they need to say to get ahead. Biased information begins here. These employees seduce leaders.
In most failures, there are many sources not one. These sources are often small. These apply to group decision making failures too. There is no scapegoat. There are many accessories. A bad organizational culture is fertile soil for coalescing these the influence of these sources.
In group decision making failures, corruption of the decision making process happens on all levels in many places. We cannot prevent it by focusing on only one place in the group.