A Sub Committee at work.
1 A seven-person Committee spent many hours on a problem. They laboured to agree on the solution. After a while, Alan put forward an idea. Eventually five of the Committee agreed to a modified version of his idea.
2 However Charlie and Dorothy did not agree. Thus, the Committee spent more time discussing the problem.
3 Eventually Dorothy said: “We cannot go on discussing this matter forever. I have some doubts about the decision but, having listened to all your views, I do not feel sufficiently strongly to oppose the decision.
4 Thus six people agreed. However, Charlie maintained his strong opposition.
5 Frank (the Chairman of the Sub-Committee) said – “I doubt if the Committee can come to a unanimous agreement no matter how much time we spend.”
6 Charlie agreed with this viewpoint.
7 Bertha then said – “Charlie, will you agree so we can present a unanimous recommendation to the General Committee?”
8 Charlie enjoyed working with the group and wanted to continue to have good relationships with its Members. Further, he hoped that if he agreed, some of the Committee might agree to support a point he wanted to put forward.
9 In addition he did not want to offend the Chairman of the Sub-Committee.
10 Thus, after some further discussion, he allowed the rest of the group to persuade him to present a united front to the General Committee.
11 The Sub-Committee reported to the General Committee. The Chairman announced the Group’s recommendation and said – “We make this recommendation unanimously.”
12 Readers should consider how often larger groups ask a smaller group to recommend on an issue and the smaller group report a unanimous decision. If it occurs – does that approach help, hinder, or prove of little importance to the overall group to which the smaller group belongs?
How often does a Group only appear Unanimous?
13 The very nature of the approach described above tends to hide whether real unanimity exists. Some Members of the larger group will not worry about the situation. If they have little or no interest in the matter on which the Sub-Group has worked, they will not care. If they want to maintain a good relationship with one or more of the Sub Group, they will not even ask, or want to consider, if all the Sub Group really agreed.
14 Some or all Members of the Sub-Group will believe that they should not disclose the process to their overall (larger) group. If a Member of the larger Group hints at a lack of unanimity or asks whether all Sub-Group Members agreed, the Sub-Group Members will tend to deny the possibility.
15 Further, some Members of the larger (overall) Group will frown on anyone who challenges the system or states disagreement with the Sub Group’s recommendation. Others call that person disloyal.
16 One might ask disloyal to whom – the (larger) overall Group, the small Group, or the person?
17 For all these reasons, people tend to hide the times when unanimous decisions do not exist. Therefore, it proves difficult to know how often it occurs.
What Effect does the Process have?
18 Readers should ask whether they accept the principle – the more accurate information people have, the better decisions they will make. If so, should the larger group make its decisions on inaccurate information; i.e. should they know that some Members of the Sub-Group do not agree with the recommendation.
19 The very fact of a unanimous Sub-Group tends to make it more difficult for others to oppose the recommendation of the Sub- Committee. If two or three Members of the larger Group do not feel happy with the recommendation of the Sub-Group, will they tend to do nothing if they face a unanimous Sub-Group? If they knew that one or two people have doubts or even opposed the recommendation would they do more? Would the fact that they voice their concern encourage others to examine the recommendation in more detail and/or voice some of their concerns?
20 Work done by Psychologists (e.g. Asche) suggests that people experience quite a lot of pressure to conform to the views of the group.
21 Asche asked a group of (about) twelve people to select the longer of two lines. Although similar in length, Line A measured, and looked, longer than Line B. He asked each individual to select the longer line. By arrangement, each of the first eleven people chose Line B. The experiment aimed to measure the effect on the last person asked (the subject of the experiment). About seven out of every ten subjects will agree with the group in this situation. The experiment demonstrated the effect of group conformity.
22 However Asche found that, if just one other person chose the longer line before asking the last person (the subject) the number of seven subjects out of every ten who conformed to the group pressure decreased to three subjects out of every ten.
23 Probably these findings also apply in the situation described in the introduction. Thus, the pressure of group conformity encourages people to agree with the findings of the Sub-Group even if they disagree with them.
24 The same group conformity pressure would operate within the discussions of the Sub-Committee and affect some of the Sub- Committee Members.
25 Another pressure exists in some groups. People say that the larger Group should support the views of the Sub-Group’. This statement seems to apply irrespective of whether the larger Group agrees with the findings of the Sub-Group.*
26 However another view states: If we simply rubber-stamp a Sub Group’s viewpoint we should delegate the position authority to the Sub Group to make the decision.
27 Sometimes the larger group agrees with the Sub-Group so that in turn, it can report to an even larger group that unanimity exists.
28 Examples A Board of Directors or a Council of a nonprofit-making organisation offers a unanimous front to the larger group which it represents (share holders of the Public and/or the group) over which it aims to maintain control (e.g. Staff, Students, Clients, Users of the Institution)
29 Thus this whole approach tends to reduce the possibility that people with minority views will speak up and put them before the group. Sometimes these different viewpoints would have helped the larger group to make better decisions.
Implications for Actions
30 What should people do if they believe that the above situation occurs and they rate it as unhelpful to the wise operation of the Organisation within which it occurs? The following list shows some recommendations
Consider the System - How it Operates and How it should Operate.
31 Encourage other people to consider whether the system operates as described above.
32 Encourage discussions on the advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches to decision making.
33 Gain acceptance from the Sub-Group and/or the total group that they do not wish to let their decision-making operate in that particular way.
Consider What Individuals Should Do.
34 Speak firmly when you have a minority view.
35 Encourage others to speak up and encourage others to listen to the views of the minority.
Consider the Sub-Group’s Activities and How to appoint Sub-Group Members.
36 Report a Sub-Group’s findings in more detail and in a way that exposes differences of opinion within the Sub-Group about the Sub-Group’s recommendation – particularly that one or more Members do not support, or have doubts about, the recommendation.
37 Consider carefully the people whom the Group intends to appoint to a Sub-Group and ensure that it includes people who will speak up and state a minority view – even if somewhat unpopular.
Consider what Position Authority to delegate to a Sub-Group.
38 Decide when delegating work to a Sub-Group whether the decision rates as so important that the Sub-Group must make a recommendation to the larger Group (compared with the Sub-Group making the decision)
39 Consider the possibility that the decision rates as unimportant and that the Sub-Group should have the position authority to make the decision (not just a recommendation)
40 The above notes suggest that many Organisations operate a system that encourages Sub-Groups to report a unanimous opinion when it does not exist. In turn, this system puts pressure on the larger group to accept the Sub-Group’s recommendations when the larger group should examine more closely the Sub-Group’s ideas.
41 A failure to distinguish between recommendations and decisions and their role in wise decision making also contributes to poor decision making.
42 These notes suggest ideas for reducing the problems discussed – by altering some of the systems under which Organisations operate.
* A similar approach states: “We must support the Manager or the managing group”.