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The reality of group decisions: to share or not to share?



There is so much information available, but not all information is equal. Are you sure you have the most valuable? Only valuable information can reduce uncertainty and lead to the best possible business decisions.

This article will examine the impact of unshared information: it can have seriously negative consequences on the quality of decisions. This article is part of a series on how to design a better approach to taking business decisions.

The risks of unshared information

People may not share all of their knowledge and insights, this is often unique information that nobody else in the group has. This unique information can mean the difference between the success or failure of the decision. The action for leaders is: how can you encourage people to share their most useful information?

Read on to discover: why people choose not to share information, the need to recognise the importance of people outside your inner circle and why ‘traditional’ discussions can be detrimental.

Why is there unshared information?

People are sometimes blamed for not sharing information. The may hold onto information because of selfish reasons and the sense of power it can give. However, insights in human behaviours show some unexpected reasons for withholding information, and they are selfless:

  • Respect towards the contribution of colleagues, if the unique information may discredit them

  • Doubts about the importance of the unique information

  • Social cost: fear that colleagues will disapprove

The inner and the outer circle

Another important consideration is the position of an individual in the group. People within the inner circle hold knowledge which is shared by several others, these people tend to have much greater influence and credibility. This means that people in the outer circles will find it difficult to share uniquely held and essential information. A questions for leaders: is your corporate culture truly open to new ideas and new people?

There is nothing like a good discussion… or is there?

A discussion is seen as the best way to elicit information within the group and improve the quality of the decision. However, research(*) has shown that post-discussion a group was more likely to choose an option inferior to what members individually chose beforehand. There is also a common-knowledge effect: information held by all members of the group is given more importance than the information held by the few.

This is an action for you. Observe your next group discussion: are people more likely to discuss options and ideas they are already familiar with or unique information?

How can you improve this area of decision-making?

There are behavioural interventions that can encourage people to share their unique information. There is no magic, fit-all solution, each organisation has a distinctive context.

These are possible interventions:

  • Reward employees who actively seek alternative sources of information

  • Encourage participation by people with specialist and new knowledge

  • Support holders of unique information to share it with some people in advance

As a leader in your company, you want to obtain the most valuable information so you can take better decisions. You can choose to learn more about decision-making and how to become even more successful. Get in touch to find out more.

How to find out more

My research has identified three sources of behavioural influences which have a negative impact on quality of decisions: unshared information, social pressure and cascades. Recognising these influencing factors is the first step towards improving the decision process.

The subject of my next article is social pressure. If you want to be a step ahead, and discuss decision-making and behavioural change in your organisation, contact me giorgia@choiceanddesign.com

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References:

Gigone and Hastie (1993). The Common Knowledge Effect: Information Sharing and Group Judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(5), 959-974.

Kameda, Ohtsubo and Takezawa (1997). Centrality in Sociocognitive Networks and Social Influence: An Illustration in a Group Decision-Making Context. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(2), 296-309.

(*) Stasser and Titus (2003). Hidden Profiles: A Brief History. An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, 14(3-4), 304-313.

Sunstein and Hastie (2008). Four Failures of Deliberating Groups In. University of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 401;

Sunstein and Hastie (2015). Wiser. Getting beyond groupthink to make groups smarter. In. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press.


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