How Smart Teams Make Dumb Decisions

Quick Insight

Groups tend to end debate over a decision once a leader of the group voices support for an option. Pre-mortems and a devil’s advocate allow both sides of a decision to be fully considered before the group makes its decision.

You’re in a meeting where the group needs to make an important decision. At the beginning of the meeting, people propose ideas. Debate begins. Then a leader in the group voices their support for one of the options. The group quickly falls behind the leader, even if there had been significant debate before this point,  

This is groupthink.

The leader (or a brave member of the group) can stop this.

One way is to conduct a premortem before choosing a course of action. This idea comes from Gary Klein. In a premortem, a leader asks their team to “imagine that we are a year into the future. We implemented the plan as it now exists. The outcome was a disaster. Please take five to ten minutes to write a brief history of that disaster.” What this does is encourages supporters to search for threats they hadn't considered earlier. 

A similar exercise is for the group leader to appoint a devil's advocate person or group. The job of the devil's advocate is to identify weaknesses in the plan, regardless of whether they personally support the plan or not. 

With a devil's advocate, only part of the group challenges the preferred option. In a premortem, the whole group can identify weaknesses in the plan. 

I wish you the honesty and bravery to get past groupthink. I wish you well.

- Rob Stephens

Further Insight

CFO Perspective Resources

  • Video: How To Avoid Business Decision-Making Mistakes - In this video, I explain some common business decision-making mistakes and how to overcome them.
  • Course: Behavioral Finance - Overcome your destructive financial impulses by understanding common thinking mistakes. With my Behavioral Finance course, you can avoid these costly financial decision-making mistakes. The course will help you to learn science-backed ideas to make better financial decisions.

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