Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Devil's Advocates: Improving Information Sharing

Garold Stasser and his colleagues published a series of influential studies in the 1980s and 1990s regarding information sharing in groups.  Stasser's research examined groups in which members possessed a mix of shared and unshared information.  Shared information represented data which all members of the group possessed.  Unshared information proved to be unique to a particular individual.  Stasser created a series of experimental studies to examine how groups behaved in this type of shared/unshared information circumstance.  

For instance, in one study, he created a murder mystery with a series of clues.  If people put the clues together successfully, they could identify the culprit and exonerate the other suspects.  Stasser compared how individuals and groups performed when trying to solve this murder mystery.   He found that individuals actually outperformed groups.  Stasser argued that groups struggled because members tended to not share, discuss, and integrate privately held information effectively.  

Recently, Brian Waddell, Sukki Yoon, and I conducted a new study using Stasser's murder mystery.  Our research will soon appear in the academic journal, Management Decision.  Our control groups worked on the same mystery using the same instructions provided by Stasser.   In our experimental condition, we assigned one member to play the role of devil's advocate.  We asked that person to question assumptions, probe lines of thinking, and encourage people to think differently.  We compared the results of the two types of groups.  We found that groups with a devil's advocate performed much more effectively than the control groups.  Here is a chart summarizing our results:
B. Waddell, M. Roberto, and S. Yoon, (Forthcoming). "Uncovering Hidden Profiles: Advocacy in Team Decision Making." Management Decision.


Anonymous said...

Did the devil advocate use any specific method or skills to deal with the other group members?

Michael Roberto said...

We didn't observe the devil's advocates during this experiment. However, in other research, I have found that devil's advocates are more effective when they work on spurring divergent thinking, and getting people to explore new options... rather than just poking holes in the existing ideas.

Anonymous said...

Thanks professor, that was quite insightful. Poking holes in existing ideas might create unfavorable conflicts.