10. Working Groups: Performance and Decision Making
This chapter has looked at the ways in which small working groups come together to perform tasks and make decisions. In particular, we have taken a close look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of collective versus solo performance. Although groups can perform many tasks well, and although people like to use groups to make decisions, they also often come with their own problems.
Since you are likely to spend time working with others in small groups—almost everyone does—hopefully you can now see how groups can succeed and how they can fail. Will you use your new knowledge about social groups to help you be a more effective group member and to help the groups you work in become more effective?
Also, now that you are familiar with the factors that lead us to cooperate or compete, we hope you will use this information to be more aware of, and to guide, your own behaviors in situations of conflict. Are you now more aware of how easy it is to assume that others will compete rather than cooperate and of how events that seem to be fixed-sum may in fact be integrative? Can you see that at least some conflict is more perceived than realistic and that cooperation is frequently more advantageous to both the self and others than is competition? Does this knowledge make you think differently about how you will want to react to situations of potential conflict?
You may want to keep in mind that solutions to conflict may frequently be integrative, allowing both you or your party and the other individuals involved in the conflict to come to a mutually beneficial solution. Taking a problem-solving approach in which you keep not only your needs but also the needs of others in mind will be helpful.
Because you are thinking like a social psychologist, you will realize that group performance and decision making are partly determined by the personalities of the members. But you also know that this is not enough and that group productivity and decision making are also influenced by what happens in the group itself. For example, groups may become too sure of themselves, and too attached to the social identity the group brings, to the detriment of looking at others’ perspectives. They may also experience strong conformity pressures, making it difficult for them to hear their individual voices and differences. Can you now see the many ways that you—either as a group member or as a group leader—can help prevent these negative outcomes?
You may find that you are now better able to use your social psychological knowledge to help reduce potentially dangerous situations of conflict. Social norms about morality and fairness lead us frequently to cooperate with others, but these principles may be undermined in conflict situations. Perhaps you will use your new knowledge to advocate for more cooperative positions regarding important social dilemmas, such as global warming and natural resource use. You can use the many approaches that help people cooperate to help you in this endeavor. As such, your value as a group member will increase when you make use of your knowledge about groups. You now have many ideas about how to recognize phenomena like social loafing, groupthink, and group polarization when they occur and how to prevent them. And you can now see how important group discussion is. When you are in a group, you must work to get the group to talk about the topics fully, even if the group members feel that they have already done enough. Groups think that they are doing better than they really are, and you must work to help them overcome this overconfidence.