Trace your thoughts back to your last team meeting. Were you and your co-workers all in consensus? Did everyone agree on the same course of action and how it should be implemented? Was your boss’s idea the greatest idea of all?
If you answered ‘yes’ to all three scenarios above, then you’ve just killed any opportunity for creativity in the meeting. Interactions like the above prevent team members from sharing their true opinions. It also discourages members who may have useful information to share with the rest of the team. According to a marketing expert, Jonah Sachs, the reason for this is known as shared information bias and occurs when groups get together.
Shared information bias describes a common phenomenon where most people prefer being wrong in a crowd rather than being right all by themselves. According to Sachs, there is an explanation for this that links back to evolution and our survival instincts. Groups such as tribes or clans (including work teams) will reject individuals who publicly disagree with the leader’s decisions. This is also true when the group’s universally held beliefs or cultures are challenged.
Basically, being rejected by a tribe and needing to survive on one’s own could prove fatal. Although we no longer need to physically fend for ourselves today, being a devil’s advocate can mean losing one’s job or even the opportunity for a promotion.
What is the effect of such bias when important issues are being discussed in meetings? Members build rapport by agreeing with other team members, especially the team leader. The individual’s ideas are dismissed in favour of solidarity and to bolster the group’s chosen decision. The instinct to belong prevents us from realising that we do this without conscious thought.
Whilst having harmonious meetings is not wrong, it may not be the best for finding creative solutions to problems. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the effects of shared information bias and hopefully encourage members to share their ideas and relevant information more often.
Have members bring notes.
By ensuring each team member has prepared and listed their thoughts beforehand, their ideas will not be as easily dismissed or forgotten, as they can be quickly referred to in the notes as important points to be considered.
Do the rounds.
Not everyone will volunteer to voice their opinions, but this does not mean they don’t have valuable thoughts. By encouraging each member to speak, you reduce the likelihood of missing important information. Of course, this is easiest if there are not too many members in the meeting.
Purposely ask for opposing opinions.
When a group consensus emerges, ask if anyone has a different opinion. This will provide an opportunity for members who may have previously hesitated to share their view.
Speak last if you are the leader or boss.
In most group situations, members tend to agree with their leader’s opinions. This is even more common in certain cultures. By allowing your team to voice their ideas first, you ensure their ideas are not being affected by your own.
Shared information bias can occur in online meetings too. By using Agendaworx, members can list their points in advance as part of the agenda for the meeting. For more information, visit