The Potential Problems Of Group Decision Making Psychology Essay


Discussions about group decision-making have become popular since the widespread use of teamwork. The quality circle, originally developed in Japan, is a typical example of group decision-making. It brought about dramatic improvements in the quality and economic competitiveness of Japanese goods since the Second World War. (Eillis&Dick, 2000)However, a large number of misadventures attributed to group decision-making such as the sinking of Titanic (1912), the Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), and the Watergate scandal (1974) also triggered doubts: are two heads really better than one? One commentator (Buys, 1978) supporting individual decision-making even argued that ‘humans would do better without groups’.

Based on potential problems of group decision-making, this essay will illustrate in which condition organizations should rely on individual decision-making. Then, by analyzing causes of problems in group context and providing the ways to prevent and reduce those problems, the essay will argue that group decision-making can be superior to individual one through effective management. In addition, organizations should not rely on one kind of decision-making whenever possible. By emphasizing the essential role of ‘leader’: the link between individual and group, the author will present her stand that whether to use group or individual decision-making is determined by the proper analysis of characteristics of decision-environment, the decision-maker and the decision-problem itself.

The potential problems of group decision-making:
Time-consuming??due to social interaction?‰:

Group-decision includes social interaction, which complicates and slows down the process of decision-making. (Middlemist, 2005) Therefore, compared with individual decision-making, group decisions take longer to be finalized, which is also the main reason why numerous organizations miss out on the optimal opportunity to solve the problems and even ultimately suffer from unpredictable catastrophes. In many situations, important organizational decisions are made under severe time pressure and it is often impossible for more exhaustive decision-making processes to occur. (Greenberg & Baron, 1993) In the organizations such as First- Aid Room in hospital, an expert working and making decision alone may do even better than a group. This is mainly because individual decision-making is more flexible and experienced, making it adept in dealing with emergencies. Otherwise, the expert may be distracted by others and suffers from having to take time to convince them of the correctness of his or her solution. (Greenberg & Baron, 1993) As can be seen, in a changing environment, especially when organizations face crisis situations requiring immediate decisions, individual decision making is more preferable.


Therefore, for managers, they should take into consideration of the characteristic of the decision environment and be flexible with their management style. Under the situation with time constrains, ‘the leader is supposed to shoulder the whole encumbrance of the decisions and bank on his own experience and acumen for taking the same’. (Middlemist, 2005)In fact, employees such as fire fighters, police officers, and admin­istrative aides need a leader to make autocratic decision’s and takes command of the situation as emergency occurs. However, an individual or autocratic decision-making does not work and demotivates employees if the decision is not urgent or is closely related to long term performance of organization, such as sales performance goals or work assignments. In this condition, based on Vroom and Yetton’s normative decision-making model (1973), by taking into consideration of the individual difference of the members and whether the subordinates will ac­cept the goals of the organization, leaders should use a consultative de­cision-making or group decision-making. (Steers, 1981)Consequently, these may motivate employees and improve group decision-making.

Suppressed alternatives (due to groupthink phenomenon):

Groupthink phenomenon, which always suppresses ideas from members and therefore induces inaccurate decisions, is caused by the negative effects of individual-characteristics (leadership style) and group-characteristics (cohesiveness and norm). More precisely, Irving Janis defined groupthink as the “deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment resulting from in-group pressure”. (Janis, 1977)In the business world, the most notorious business case is the collapse of Enron, which indicates that ‘the most reputable of companies can suffer from an ethical breakdown through groupthink and subsequent poor judgment’. (Sims Ronald R, 2003) Executives in Enron showed group characteristics found in groupthink experiences and the whole company showed clear symptoms of groupthink [3] such as overconfidence, excessive or blind loyalty, illusion of morality and mindguards. (Steers, 1981)


Hence, leaders should not only understand the characteristics about themselves but also make better use of group characteristics and find some ways to reduce negative effects derived from these characteristics. Based on McCauley’s (1989) analysis, ‘groupthink phenomenon is the result of top-down leadership’. (Baron et al., 1992) Leaders such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and President Kennedy with directive leadership style, tend to “get their way” and overtly and covertly pressure the group into agreement. (Tropman, 1996) As a result, as Stanley Milgram’s experiment (1974) illustrates, suffering from the effect of obedience to authority, members will fall into a groupthink pitfall and consequently obey their powerful leaders. (Milgram, 1974) As a controller of the group, leader should be neutral and be aware of the negative parts of every decision. They may also move their directive leadership style to a more democratic one and provide an active communication environment to reduce groupthink.

In terms of group-characteristics, although it is well known that norms and cohesiveness inhibit the potential inter-group conflicts and provide a stable social world in organizations (Baron,et al., 1992), they may also lead to the catastrophes such as the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986. According to documentary, by not disrupting the group consensus, advisors against the recommendations of individual engineer and had tended to convince themselves that launching the shuttle was right, even though many clear signs of warning of impending disaster were in evidence. (Galotti, 2002) To avoid this kind of disaster, manager should encourage and empower members to be skeptical of all solution and invite outside experts to group meetings. (Steers, 1981)

Less creative and innovative (due to pressure of conformity):

Most of the problems faced by commercial, scientific, educational and artistic organizations require a great deal of creative thinking. In fact, Bounchard’s research (1974) has shown that, groups perform worse than individuals on poorly structured and creative problems. (Greenberg & Baron, 1983: p557) This is mainly due to conformity pressures of group members. As Asch’s conformity experiment (1956) indicates, despite initially feeling uncomfortable and hesitant, participants followed the incorrect group answer approximately one-third of the time during the ‘vision test’.(Kreitner&Kinicki ,1989) Similarly, under ideas contribution, members with creative minds are still prone to conform with other’s perspective, as they are afraid of how their ideas will be evaluated, or that they will be made to look foolish in front of others.(Mitchell&Larson, 1978:p378) At the same time, as people don’t want to be a deviant (Leavitt ,1972), members who disagree with the group consensus will prefer to keep silent and avoid themselves coming up with more creative alternatives. Consequently, suffering from the conformity pressure, all members tend to compromise with other’s stereotyped notion. Without sufficient creative ideas, it is hard for organization to survive from market competition.


To reduce the difficulty to the lowest level, it is essential for leader to analyze the problem-characteristics before choosing the decision-method. Except for using individual decision-making, to improve group’s creativity, leaders are also recommended to use some techniques like nominal group technique and Delphi technique, which minimizes the conformity pressure through insulating the undue influences from others. (Rupert Brown, 1988)

In addition, they should be aware that methods acceptable in creative tasks may not be useful in complex tasks. Confronted with complex problems, ‘groups are supposed to be better than individuals’. (Douglas, T., 1995) Through the membership, a group can accumulate much more information and knowledge than can an individual acting alone. As a result, there will be a pooling of resources and perspectives. (Kreitner& Kinicki, 1989) Also, a related benefit is that in groups, there can be a specialization of labor. ‘With enough people around to share the work load, individuals can perform only those tasks at which they are best, thereby potentially improving the quality of the group’s efforts’. (Rupert Brown, 1988) Moreover, Shaw (1932) shows that compared with individuals, groups are better problem-solvers due to their ability of error-correction: catching one another’s errors and rejecting incorrect solutions. (John Castellan, 1993, P109) Therefore, realizing these irreplaceable merits, leaders should introduce group decision-making when facing a complex task.

Less efficient (due to social-loafing):

According to Wilson, informational resource available to the group is one of the main factors that help the group to achieve high quality solutions. (Rosenfeld&Wilson, 1999) However, large group size may have a strong negative impact on group communication, which will significantly restrain information from individuals. As Stephan and Misheler (1952) states, ‘the proportion of active speakers in discussion groups declined with group size’. Moreover, Ringelmann’s rope-pulling experiment and Bibb Latane’s cheering studies indicated that as the group got larger, individuals in the group tended to pull or shout less hard. Latane(1968) defined this slackening of effort in groups ‘social loafing’. This is because, ‘the increasing size of groups allow group members to feel more anonymous and therefore they may exhibit less social responsibility, which in turn will often lead to less task involvement and lower motivation’. (Rupert Brown, 1988) Under group discussion, social-loafing occurs when individuals probably feel relatively safe to become “free-loaders” as there are other people who will provide ideas and carry out the task. (Swap et al., 1984)


For leaders, instead of turning to rely on individual decision-making, ‘social-loafing’ can be avoided through the effective management. To improve the effectiveness of decision-making, leaders could make each member’s contributions more identifiable and give feedback to them based on their contributions. (Douglas, 1995)In addition, they can motivate individuals through a better job design. As the job become more interesting and attractive, employees are more likely to devote themselves into it. Consequently, it will be difficult for members to ‘hide in the crowd’ and members will be more participative as achieving a higher level of Maslow’s hierarchy: self-esteem. (Mary Jo Hatch, 1997)

Should not rely on one kind of method:

As can be seen, group decision-making includes numerous potential problems such as being time-consuming and less creative. It also suffers from blind conformity and suppression of information. However, in fact, the truly important decisions today are still generally assigned to groups. For instance, how to market new products is decided by sales teams; which bills to pass into law is decided by legislatures; guilt or innocence of defendants is determined by juries’ decision. (Eillis&Dick, 2000) When it comes to the reason why so many important decisions are entrusted to groups. This is mainly because group decision-making has many irreplaceable advantages and its problems can be prevented or overcome through flexible and effective management. Moreover, disadvantages associated with individual decision making are inevitable and devastating, which should not be ignored.

In the real world, it is hard for individuals to make a truly rational decision because they are more likely to suffer from selective perception, emotional pressure and limitations on human ability, such as restricted capacity of human mind. According to Kreitner ,the most obvious limitation on individual’s ability to the best possible decisions is imposed by their restricted capacity to process information accurately and thoroughly. (Kreitner&Kinicki,1989) In the process of identifying the situations and selecting the solutions in the decision model, individuals are prone to cognitive bias which is caused by the framing effects [4] and heuristic methods [5] . (Greenberg&Baron,1993) ‘They may tend to base their judgments on information that is readily available to them or information that matches what one already believes – even though it might not be accurate’. (Kreitner & Kinicki, 1989) In addition to cognitive bias, individuals may suffer from “face-saving” pressure. In other words, standard setters may make decisions that help them save face at work, although the resulting decisions might not be in the best interest of their organizations. (Cooper &Robertson, 2001)

Conclusion remarks:

As has been discussed above, there is no single decision-making method that is appropriate for all situations. Before recommending that managers involve groups in decision-making and decentralize authority, it is important to examine whether groups perform better or worse than individuals. (Kreitner&Kinicki, 1989) Based on the essay question, it is undeniable that group decision-making has potential problems, while, obviously the recommendation that organizations should rely on individual decision-making whenever possible cannot be supported. Compared with individual decision-making, group decision-making has many irreplaceable advantages. Though this essay spends many words on the problems of group decision, it also shows that most of those problems can be prevented or eliminated through flexible and effective management.

According to Tropman(1996), it is vital for the leader to become an ‘orchestra conductor’ instead of a ‘partisan virtuoso’, because both decision methods and organizational performance are under the leader’s control. A good decision is determined by proper analysis of the characteristics of decision environment, decision-problem, and decision-maker. ‘In order to make better decisions, manages or leaders must analyze the situation, scan the environment, think through the process, know the right timing, and be flexible’ (Middlemist, 2005). In a nut shell, as right timing is important, individual business acumen and intuition may have significant influence on organizations in a particular period of time. However, leaders should also bear in mind that ‘it’s time not timing- that make business successful’. (Wall-Street-adage, 2009)In other words, high-quality decisions are derived from an effective leadership style and a harmonious communication environment in the long term.