Group decision making

Published on September 27, 2011 Reviewed on April 30, 2020   28 min

A selection of talks on Management, Leadership & Organisation

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Hello. I'm John Carroll, a Professor in the Work and Organization Studies group at the MIT Sloan School of Management. I've been studying decision-making by individuals and groups for many years, beginning with research in the criminal justice system, including decisions by parole boards, juries, judges, and probation officers. In the past 20 years, I've been conducting research in industries such as nuclear power and healthcare that deal with significant hazards, especially around how groups are assigned to analyze and learn from problems and accidents and decide how to improve and avoid future accidents. Today, I'll be talking to you about group decision-making.
As the paraphrase quotation from Carl Jung indicates, ''We must be careful about thinking that groups are the answer to every decision problem. Although sometimes groups produce a better decision than individuals and also offer a setting in which individuals learn from each other. Sometimes assigning decisions to groups ends up wasting valuable time and producing a poor result.'' Let's start with a couple of examples.
Irving Janis wrote a famous book in 1972 analyzing important group decisions made by the advisors to US Presidents. Probably his most famous example is the decision by the advisors to President John F Kennedy to assist in the ill fated invasion of Cuba in 1961. Here's the story. In 1960, then President Eisenhower asked the CIA to organize Cuban exiles into an invasion force to take back Cuba from the Castro regime that had led a successful revolution. Eisenhower was seeking to solve two problems; what to do about a new communist country only 90 miles from Florida, and what to do about a large number of Cuban exiles who were forcefully advocating some sort of action. It seemed ideal to have the Cuban exiles take Cuba back from Castro. When Kennedy became president in early 1961, the head of the CIA and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff informed him of the plan to invade Cuba. Over the next three months his advisory group, which later came to be called the National Security Council, met to discuss the invasion and eventually approved the version of the CIA's plan. Invasion took place in April at a location called the Bay of Pigs and was a disaster. Many in the Cuban exile force were killed or captured. Those captured were essentially ransomed by the US in exchange for money and medical supplies. The international reputation of the US suffered greatly from conducting war by proxy, trying to hide it and losing anyway. The President is quoted saying, ''How could we have been so stupid?'' Ted Sorensen, a key advisor who also wrote a book about his time as a presidential adviser, said there were a shocking number of blunders in the whole decision-making process. What were those blunders?