Despite advice to the contrary, even good managers often staff work teams with people inclined to think alike, creating “yes-man” teams that fail to make the kind of measured decisions that come out of more diverse groups.

Recent research at the Stanford School of Business suggests that teams holding at least two separate points of view on a particular question do, indeed, make better decisions because the minority pressure forces the majority to think more complexly and consider diverse evidence. Focusing on 40 years of decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court, researchers found that justices in the majority reasoned with even greater complexity when defending the status quo than when upending it; decisions on votes to overturn precedent were more dogmatic. Researchers also found that as the justices gain power, become the chief justice or become part of a larger faction, their written opinions become less complex. “They exhibit less consideration of multiple perspectives and less discussion of possible outcomes (i.e., lower cognitive complexity) in their written opinions,” writes the chief researcher. While such conclusions seem to bolster the adage that power corrupts, she suggests that it is due less to strategic planning than to unconscious group dynamics.

Stanford Graduate School of Business Apr 2004