Contrary to the outcome exhibited by most other groups during the Arctic Survival exercise, our team score (34) was lower than my individual score (64). This is not to suggest that group collaboration is detrimental; in fact, our outcome was unique among the class and of great surprise to the professor and entire class section. To be sure, pooling resources, elaboration of material, and support and motivation, while perhaps more time consuming, typically offer improved results. In theory, this model implies that a team’s collective knowledge can maximize utility and ensure the best outcome given the available information and perspectives.
In our case, our group dynamics were such that we did not effectively utilize the resources we had, and consequently pooled a very limited amount of information. Rather than minimizing our risk, we increased it. I attribute much of our group’s failure at this simulation to process loss, which is defined as the problems that arise from lack of effective coordination among group members. A number of factors at play could explain the process loss which led to our counterintuitive results. First and foremost, one must consider the way in which group dynamics impact the overall productivity of group collaboration.
Our team consisted of K, R, W, J and myself. K and W were quite opinionated, and in contrast, both R and J were quiet – I did not have a sense of what their true opinions were. K dominated the group by putting forth an idea and adhering to that idea in spite of other opinions. Both K and W were vocal in reiterating what they thought were the most important elements of survival. In our case, we took no measures to counteract the impact of clashing personalities. Subsequently, a lack of civil discussion led to uncoordinated efforts with regards to how we should begin to approach a systematic analysis of the situation.
An effective manager, however, should be skilled at identifying employee team dynamics and personalities; in order to maximize potential, the manager must have the emotional intelligence (that is, the ability to perceive, decipher, use, and pinpoint emotions accurately) to understand how team members differ with respect to emotions, motivation, perspectives, experience, and intentions. For example, though J was quiet and rarely spoke up or defended her ratings, I knew of J’s work ethic from class and understood that it was not as though she avoided work or pulling her weight.
In other words, I recognized that her behavior was not attributed to social loafing, but to some other phenomenon. In this case, our group members seemed to exhibit varying levels of psychological safety, which is the belief that little to no risk exists in a particular group environment, and consequently each member feels free to contribute their true thoughts. I presumed that J and R did not feel psychologically safe. Anytime a group member disagreed and pressed them to argue for their position, they wavered and complied, indicating that they felt uncomfortable in taking a risk and voicing dissenting views.
Their low psychological safety led to an apparent mode of groupthink, in which R and J preferred unanimity in the group over their perceived accurate valuations of arctic survival tools. Similar to the Asch experiment in which a dissenter purposely responded with the wrong answer regarding which stick length was equal, R and J were often silent even though their scores later revealed that their ranking of the rope was more in line with the ideal. Indeed, both R and J, but particularly J, demonstrated a primary symptom of groupthink by censoring herself and failing to communicate her unique viewpoints.
Managing a group of people requires careful consideration of the group dynamics in play, paying close attention to symptoms of groupthink and low psychological safety which might lead to process loss. A manager must use his or her emotional intelligence and leverage group members’ differing perspectives. In doing so, team members will not fall victim to process loss, but will instead pool resources and elaborate on them, thereby facilitating healthy debate and a better end result than one could achieve on his or her own.
In addition to identifying how team members differ with respect to emotions, motivation, perspectives, experience, and intentions, a manager must be cautious about his or her own actions and biases. While being confident and resolute is often positive, it can also blind a manager or group member to other valid viewpoints. Many fall victim to commitment and consistency, which is the tendency for individuals to adhere very strongly to a course of action because they feel pressure to act in line with their original declared commitments.
Indeed, K exhibited strong commitment and consistency to certain declarations and did not back down. In particular, he was quite stubborn in his opinion that rope was the second most important asset for survival behind matches. When pressed to explain his case, his justifications were vague; yet, he was very insistent. I mentioned, for example, that rope was not necessary in killing prey for food (in comparison to the hand ax), and challenged him to elaborate on his view. He tried to reason by convincing me that rope was the better choice, but ultimately did a poor job at elaborating.
The more we debated, the more steadfast he became – he had committed to a course of action, ranking the rope highly, and felt the pressure to follow through. He couldn’t back down now. Rather than counteracting my challenge that a hand ax was more important, he simply offered that he did not agree without any explanation as to why. What’s more, he did not listen to the ways in which an alternative solution might be better (in this case, the hand ax), but instead disregarded my perspective and stood firm that the rope was more crucial to survival, thus confirming his previous beliefs.
He defended his position and avoided information that potentially proved his theory wrong. Not only does this exemplify commitment and consistency, but also confirmation bias, which is an individual’s tendency to disregard information that would contradict his or her views and instead only focus on those explanations that confirm them. K’s adherence was convincing to W, who soon after agreed with his valuation of the rope. W’s support coupled with the others group members’ lack of any objections whatsoever throughout the simulation led to my almost immediate compliance on the subject matter.
I let them have the rope, and they let me have the hand ax to follow. The next point of contention was the canvas. Though they all agreed that the hand ax was important, they did not believe the canvas to be significant. I was the only obstacle who expressed a different opinion. K and W’s mutual agreement coupled with R and J’s silence, seemed to bolster their insistence that the canvas was unnecessary. Eventually, J broke the silence and agreed with K and W. J was more likely to feel as though the canvas was insignificant given K and W’s dominant opinion regarding the matter. Once again, I succumbed and agreed to rank the canvas lower down.
Though I certainly did not consider myself a manager in this simulation, it allowed me to reflect on my own dealings within a group context and as a potential manager. I was aware of the group dynamics and recognized the limitations that commitment and consistency, social proofing, confirmation bias, and groupthink provided, but also knew that likeability was a key strategy for influencing others. I prodded R and J to offer more insight, but my efforts often fell short. Rather than taking any methodical approach, K and W would dominate conversation, and I assumed the role of mediator, trying to compromise between all perspectives.
I could not claim to have expert power, but perhaps I could convince the group that we should take a more systematic and methodical approach to analyzing this situation. Unfortunately, my efforts probably provided more harm than good. I used reciprocity by telling K and W that he could have rope, if I could have the hand ax next. We continued to negotiate – W could have navigation guide next if the canvas could follow shortly after. The simulation consisted of many exchanges such as these. Reciprocity, which is the tendency for members to agree to a course of action of an individual who has done them a favor, miserably backfired in our case.
Not only did group members (myself included) interrupt each other and fail to exert any sort of coordination, but my attempt to give everyone what they wanted eventually led to a higher valuation of the navigation guide. I should have known that R and J were easily persuaded and would not speak up about this unwise decision, and yet I went through with it. In an effort to gain support through likeability and reciprocity, I sacrificed an effective decision-making process that would have led to a higher probability of success.
Group collaboration is typically expected to prevail in this simulation due to pooling of resources and elaboration of material, and in retrospect, our group did a poor job of doing so; framed this way, it is not surprising that our outcome was the exact opposite of the simulation’s intended effect. Though only a simulation, the Arctic Survival exercise certainly illuminated the various ways in which I could be susceptible to ineffective managing. These models and concepts are not simply applicable to this and other simulations, but also provide insight into my potential downfalls.
Perhaps it is necessary to assign a devil’s advocate to the group so that teams are not victimized by groupthink; instead a concerted effort to have varying opinions would inspire thoughtful debate and ultimately more effective outcomes. Likeability is an important weapon of influence, but should not come at the expense of sound decisions – a manager must always exhibit a healthy balance of likeability and firm consideration of all the options. I must be cognizant of my team members and make sure to harness each individual’s strengths, going to great lengths to avoid the common pitfalls exhibited in this simulation.