Forming a committee or task force is a common response to business problems, but is that always the best course of action?
Many managers believe committees make better decisions than individuals and more quickly arrive at solutions, but this is not always the case. Ad hoc groups spend time establishing internal rapport and trust among members. In time constrained situations, this can detract from addressing the primary problem and degrade recommendations.
Don’t just form a committee the next time a business process needs adjustment or a problem crops up in your department! If you believe an ad hoc committee or task force is the best quick fix, you could be mistaken. In reality, group dynamics come into play and in many circumstances, the time spent developing trust and a sense of rapport within the committee detracts from its desired outcomes. Does this mean a business should never use committees? Certainly many employees feel overloaded with too many meetings, but when approached the right way, committees can draw on each individuals’ strengths and provide results that exceed what one person could accomplish.
So, what is the ‘right way’ to use teams in business environments? According to recent research conducted by Kansas State University professor of management information systems, Roger McHaney, groups with a prior history of working together can perform better. People in groups that have developed a sense of cohesion where members enjoy being included are more likely to come up with better judgments.
“It is easy for a manager to form a committee and ask for a report without considering nuances that may have a real impact on work quality,” McHaney says. “I am not suggesting committees should never be used in business settings. What I am saying is that a little time spent up front developing a cohesive group will go a long way toward improving its outcomes. Otherwise, the result may not be any better than what an individual could come up with alone.”
Lies, More Lies and Darn Lies
McHaney learned a few things about group dynamics when he and co-investigators, Professors Joey George from Iowa State University and Manjul Gupta from Florida International University recently studied how well groups and individuals were able to detect deceptive messages recorded in formats typically transmitted over the Internet. Their research revealed that ad hoc groups performed about the same as individuals did in deception detection.
“This just didn’t seem to make sense,” McHaney says. “Wouldn’t you think that a group of people would be better at telling if someone was lying? This made us wonder what we were missing.”
After reviewing research on group dynamics and digging into their collected data a bit deeper, a pattern began to emerge.
“We discovered the groups we had put together, formed with people who had never worked with each other before, didn’t perform very well. This was where our research got very interesting. We found that a few of the groups did make better judgments. We investigated and found that people in these groups had a history of working together. They detected deceptive statements at significantly higher rates than individuals or ad hoc group members were able.”
The research team gathered additional observations from established work groups in corporate and university settings and the pattern held true.
“Established groups outperformed ad hoc groups,” McHaney says. “Now, the question was why?”
The Truth about Deception
A few clues were provided by work done at K-State and other places years earlier.
“We started thinking about a study completed back in the 1990’s,” McHaney says. “I was a new professor at the time and was interested in some work being done by my senior colleagues. They tested something called Time-Interaction-Performance or T-I-P Theory in online environments. If you can get past the scholar-speak here, a couple interesting and useful ideas shed light on our findings.”
McHaney’s reference to scholar-speak, warrants a little explanation. T-I-P Theory looks at what groups in work environments need to be successful. Groups are usually formed to produce an outcome which may be a decision, report, recommendation or something else. Groups members support each other and maintain the continuity of the group itself. T-I-P Theory explains these activities and suggests that new teams usually are more task oriented and exchange less social and emotional information. These studies also show that it takes a while for people within a group to become comfortable with each other. Members of new groups are less likely to share their thoughts and trust the judgment of their peers. The development of “relational links” between group members can take time. But, once a group becomes cohesive, more quality time can be spent tackling the problem, rather than trying to understand each other’s strengths, motives, and personalities.
“It appeared that newly formed groups relied on the judgment of someone who was most outspoken,” McHaney says. “This meant the performance was not any better for the entire group than it would have been for that person to have accomplished the task by themselves. Well established groups learn to moderate outspoken opinions and encourage quieter members to contribute.”
Back to the Truth
So, what does this mean for a business?
“A few lessons can be taken away from our study,” says McHaney. “First, team building is very important. Most good managers know a group of people thrown together to complete a task are going to need an adjustment period.”
In a business environment, this may not always be possible. Events happen that require immediate action. Anticipate this by developing teams in a proactive fashion.
“Don’t wait for a crisis to start building rapport among people that probably will work together on future teams,” McHaney says. “People will appreciate developing a sense of cohesion and comfort in less stressful situations.”
To take advantage of group synergy and avoid common issues that plague ad hoc groups, McHaney and colleagues suggest:
- Use ad hoc groups sparingly. These may work best in circumstances where more mechanical tasks are being completed but not so well in knowledge work.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to start building cohesion among people that are likely to be asked to pull together to accomplish an important task under tight time constraints. Team building exercises and other activities can help build relational links and allow people to become familiar with their peers.
- Detecting deception in video and other media is difficult and even a small improvement in judgment might be critical in contract negotiations and job applicant reviews.
- If a well-established group becomes dysfunctional, it is best to disband it and build a new team to take on the task. Just being familiar with your peers does not guarantee success. A familiar team with weak relational links may be worse than an ad hoc group.
McHaney, Roger, Joey F. George, and Manjul Gupta. “An Exploration of Deception Detection Are Groups More Effective Than Individuals?” Communication Research (2015): 0093650215607627.