Making strategic leadership decisions on your own isn’t easy.  This is especially true knowing that the leader bears the sole responsibility for the outcome.  That is why many leaders rely on their Boards of Directors to tap into different perspectives and skill sets before participating in critical team decision-making.
When it comes to team decision making, however, it is even trickier given that there are four essential group dynamic behaviors that derail excellence in team decision making. The four behaviors are cooperation VS competition, group think, risky shift and ineffective group process. Today we are focusing on cooperation VS competition.  Future posts will deal with each additional group behavior glitch in detail.
Regardless of whether we make decisions alone or with others, we are limited by time, energy, and our ability to digest information, says Nir Halvey, a Stanford Graduate School of Business professor.  Halvey wanted to know what information grabbed a decision-maker’s attention and what they ignored. His findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, came from research he did with Eileen Y. Chou of the University of Virginia, using behavioral game theory.

The results, says Halevy, showed that regardless of the relationship between decision makers, people generally want to know what decision will have the best outcome for them and what the outcome will be if they cooperate rather than compete. “They don’t look at information that tells them how to avoid the worst outcome; they look at what decision will lead to the best outcome,” says Halevy, and they would rather cooperate than compete to get there.

Deploy an effective team decision-making

To determine this, Halevy and Chou conducted four experiments. In the first, they used eye tracking to examine the visual attention of Stanford students playing strategic games. Halevy tracked their eye movements as they looked at a payoff tables on a computer screen showing how much money they could earn for themselves and for their counterpart for cooperating or competing with another player, who faced a similar choice. Halevy found that students focused mostly on the box showing the monetary consequences of mutual cooperation.

In a second study, participants asked questions to figure out what kind of classic game theory their opponent was using. “We thought this would be a fun way to find out what is important to people during negotiations,” says Halevy. Again, participants asked most often about the choices that would give them their best outcomes and the number of points awarded for mutual cooperation. Another experiment explored the value that participants place on different pieces of information in various situations — including marriage, a new boss, collaborating on a project, and purchasing a service. Halevy says these experiments show that individuals’ attention is attracted to outcomes that are both desirable and equal, which is relatively good for both. Therefore, when people make decisions in a mutually dependent situation — as part of a team working on a project, for example, or within a marriage — they tend to focus their attention disproportionately on mutual cooperation, which meets these two criteria, says Halevy. “In addition to preferring better outcomes to worse, people also seem to genuinely care about reciprocity — where things are equal, and mutual cooperation often gives them pretty good outcomes that are also symmetric.”

The same studies apply to both negotiation and team decision-making

Knowing that people have focal points and blind spots when they make decisions can help in team negotiations. According to Halvey’s study,  If we know what our opponents are focused on — and what they aren’t — we can better anticipate their behavior. This helps in devising effective strategies to help teams achieve their goals. The research also applies to the corporate world. Leaders can define the game to their followers, and that can affect where teams focus their attention and energy.

For example, if a leader tells the team of employees that their division is at war with other divisions, you’re basically crossing out all the cooperation spaces on the game board. That is why it is essential for divisions and departments to cooperate rather than compete for resources and budgets. If the game is to win at all costs for a department, the company suffers.  Yet, we see this all the time, and it impacts favorable stockholder payouts, employee engagement and workforce development outcomes.

In the end, when making decisions, we often wind up disregarding quite a bit of information about our choices and focusing only on what will get us to the best outcome. This means that a simple SWOT analysis (analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) is frequently ignored resulting in the team becoming derailed by the first weakness or threat. This is seen in project planning and change management execution failures with financial ramifications that get CEO’s and team leaders fired or companies to lose revenue like a sieve. In the next post, we look an how group think layers onto the competition VS cooperation paradigm causing team decision making to derail.

Here are some additional resources that add value to this conversation:

Copyright, TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton

leading accountable decision-making About TIGERS Success Series, Inc.

TIGERS® Success Series provides a comprehensive and robust system for improving both your work environment and profitability.  We specialize in workplace enrichment and employee re-invigoration management facilitation methods that builds workforce cooperation and high performance team dynamics. Scaled to grow as your organization and leadership performance grows, our proprietary Team Behavior Profile and  leadership training workshops are based on the six principles we have found to be the right mix to make this happen. The six principles are Trust, Interdependence, Genuineness, Empathy, Risk and Success. Born from our many years of business, psychology, and educational group dynamic research, and subsequent four years of independent evaluation, we instill and sustain behaviors that improve work group performance and talent retention for measurable ROI. Since 1987, TIGERS has served committed leaders who desire enhanced cooperation among departments, teams, managers and individual employees. This heightened level of cooperation leads to improved revenue, purpose, commitment and impact. Employees quit companies because they don’t get along with leaders and co-workers. Work culture refinement and behaviors that build strong relationships erase this trend remarkably fast.  For more information call 1+541-385-7465 or visit .