How do groups make decisions?

group-decisionAs our workplaces have become more social and collaborative affairs, there has been a renewed emphasis on how our organizations are changing, and how they can become more effective.

A recent study from Carnegie Mellon used the animal kingdom to try and shed some light on collective decision making.  The study saw a model developed that explained how groups make decisions when none of the members of the group are party to all of the information required to make the decision.

How decisions are born

“Throughout the presidential primary process, people are trying to find an ideal candidate in a crowded landscape. The person in the lead – say Donald Trump – gets more media coverage and attention, which could lead to more people thinking about voting for him based on name recognition,” the authors say. “Eventually, the added exposure could highlight information that people do not like, causing a candidate to fade in the polls.”

Two factors that were central to the model were how positive feedback helped to recruit people via the reinforcement of popular opinions, and what’s known as quorum sensing, whereby a trigger point is reached and final decisions made.  Using a statistical model called a Polya urn scheme, the researchers were able to accurate gage how long it would take to make a decision, and the subsequent accuracy of that decision.

“We found that the model is pretty robust across how it is implemented,” the authors say. “Most interesting, when one choice has more variation in how it is perceived, it’s chosen less frequently, establishing systemic risk aversion.”

The safe option

With innovation remaining a hot topic for most organizations, this seemingly in-built risk aversion is something that should concern managers looking to create more entrepreneurial cultures.

This cautious approach was echoed in a study I wrote about earlier this week in which farmers were tracked for over 5,000 years to see how they responded to change.  A cautious and iterative approach was chosen over a more revolutionary approach nearly all of the time.

It perhaps explains why innovators are often regarded in a negative way, with researchers suggesting that this is largely down to our evolutionary desire to co-operate with our peers rather than cause disruption.



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