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Difficulties in team decision-making

Sources of failure in team decision-making, according to Orasanu and Salas (1993), include poor communication, logical errors, inadequate situation assessment and pressure to conform. Compared with individuals, teams have increased cognitive resources and might be expected to perform better than individuals. For example, team members can monitor each other’s performance, pool their knowledge or observations, suggest strategies or options, provide alternative viewpoints, reduce workload by sharing tasks, provide feedback to one another and critique each other. However, some difficulties with team decision-making can arise:

• ‘Groupthink’: Originally identified by Janis (1972), groupthink involves a group suspending its rational judgement in order to maintain group cohesion, often by accepting, without challenge, a proposal by a respected leader. An example of hesitance to contradict figures of authority is that of the Bay of Pigs incident in 1961 (Kramer, 1998) described in Box 5.7.

Box 5.7 Bay of Pigs incident (1961)

In 1961, an invasion of Cuba by a group of Cuban exiles was supported by the CIA with the authorisation of President John Kennedy and his advisers. The invasion was a failure being readily repulsed by the Cuban army. President Kennedy and his advisers were

young, optimistic and committed to civil rights and democracy, yet they collectively had

considered that this event could be successful. They, led by the President, had formed a cohesive group which appeared to be insulated from outside opinion.

  • Inhibition: Individual team members may feel inhibited in contributing information relevant to a decision, but instead team members offer information that is already shared by the group.
  • Failure to challenge: Team members may assume that they share similar goals and operate on that assumption, leading to false consensus or pluralistic ignorance.
  • Poor communication/shared experiences: Team members may think along similar lines but all can be incorrect. Another problem can be if team members assume that others share understanding of words (e.g. risk, threat, likelihood) when they actually may interpret them differently. In an incident involving delayed treatment to a patient in an intensive care unit (ICU), the staff involved were all using the term ‘bumpable’ to refer to patients suitable for transfer out of ICu, but their use of the term may have had slightly different meanings depending on their professional group (Cook, 2006).
  • Decision-making: Teams may make poor decisions due to factors such as hostility within the team, lack of co-operation, lack of motivation.
  • Status: A higher status team member may reject relevant information offered by a lower status team member.

• Organisational policy: The organisational context in which the team operates may affect team decision-making.

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