Study of the Day: Why Teams Don't Always Make the Best Decisions

Research from the University of Pennsylvania finds that relying too much on one's team may lead to a rejection of critical outside information.

Image: Tom Wang/Shutterstock

PROBLEM: Important decisions are often reached when people collaborate. But can confidence in one's teammates also backfire?

METHODOLOGY: University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School researchers Julia A. Minson and Jennifer S. Mueller asked 252 people to estimate nine numbers related to United States geography, demographics, and commerce, either individually or in pairs after a discussion. They were then offered the estimates of other individuals and pairs and allowed to revise their own, so the final estimates could come from the efforts of two to four people. The subjects also rated their confidence in their judgments.

RESULTS: People who worked with a partner were more confident in their estimates and significantly less willing to take outside advice. Had the pairs yielded to external input, their estimates would have been significantly more accurate.

CONCLUSION: Those who put too much trust in their teammates may reject outside information and make poor decisions as a result.

IMPLICATION: Organizations need to know the potential costs of teamwork. "If people become aware that collaboration leads to an increase in overconfidence, you can set up ways to mitigate it," says Minson in a statement. "Teams could be urged to consider and process each others' inputs more thoroughly."

SOURCE: The full study, "The Cost of Collaboration: Why Joint Decision Making Exacerbates Rejection of Outside Information," is published in the journal Psychological Science.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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