Be the lone voice.

By | June 11, 2008

Committees annoy me. One or two outspoken individuals can cause an entire group to reach incorrect conclusions. If you are the lone voice, the person who forms and expresses views based on an objective examination of available data, I salute you.

In behavioral science, there is a well-documented propensity for small committees to drift toward “extreme” decisions, that is, a group of individuals acting as a committee often makes a decision that none of the individuals acting alone would make, given the same information. There seems to be a number of reasons for this tendency….

Ignoring the Lone Voice. Often small groups do not properly take into account the most relevant expertise in the room. As reported in The New York Times on June 28, 2005, Dr. Garold Stasser at Miami University of Ohio recently found that most small groups tend to make decisions based on the information all members share about a topic, overlooking important facts that one or several people may know but the others do not. A solitary opinion is often taken lightly or ignored in the flow of debate within the group. Yet management committees are usually looking for creative, out-of-the-box strategies that are not likely to be foremost in most committee members’ thinking. Ralph Cordiner, the former chairman of General Electric, once said: “If you can name one great decision that was made by committee, I will find you the one person who had the lonely insight–that solved the problem and was the basis for that decision.” One of the things that leadership can do is make an extra effort to identify the person in the group who has the greatest expertise relating to the issues at hand, whether it is technology or outplacement, and insure that every opinion is heard. – link

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