Unpredictable research findings
These in-process interventions are more effective because decision-making groups see more value in interruptive advice than in preventative advice, which leads them to share more critical information and come to better decisions, compared to groups getting the same advice prior to their task – even when the difference between receiving the information was just a few minutes.
Teams that were interrupted had more productive discussions on an assortment of measures, remarkably improving the quality of the decisions they made. This goes against the conventional wisdom that prevention is always better than cure.
Surprisingly, the research shows that the specific timing of in-process interventions had virtually no significant effects on information pooling or group decisions – just as long as the groups were advised during their tasks – so we can easily state that decision-making groups respond more strongly to interventions designed to cure process problems, rather than prevent them before they have a chance to take hold.
To reach this conclusion, I conducted experiments with 124 three-person groups. They had to make two decisions about launching a fictitious new gourmet restaurant. To reveal the best choices, members had to pool their individual information.
Groups were filmed receiving advice either before their discussion, or at varying points during their discussions. The recorded videos of their conversations were used to measure the discussion length, level of advocacy, and amount of information shared, all of which predicted the likelihood of choosing the correct path to follow.
The intervention used – suggesting group members consider all of the available information before making a closing decision – was wonderfully simple and fast. This basic advice helped groups more when it came during their discussions than when it was given even just seconds before deliberations began. This strongly suggests that an important change occurs in the moments from just before to just after discussion begins. In those moments, the idea of making this specific decision with this specific group of people becomes more concrete. That feeling leads the group to see value in the advice, and to actually use it.
For managers and leaders of decision-making groups, this research has clear implications. While it can be uncomfortable or awkward to interrupt groups that are in the process of discussing an important decision, small reminders to share and consider all available information during a conversation can go a long way – far more than giving pre-task instructions or doing nothing at all!