Guest Comment: The consequences of groupthink

Written by Association of Member-Nominated Trustees association member Lee Allford
23/01/17

There appears to be significant current interest in the collective decision-making process of trustee boards and particularly an understanding of how behavioural science can be applied to obtain better outcomes in both investment and member communication.

As someone who has spent the majority of his career in the field of major accident risks and the prevention of low probability but high impact events, I can confirm that several catastrophes have had their root cause in faulty group decision-making.

Groupthink for example is the reluctance of individuals to argue against the majority held view and to stand out from the team. This can manifest itself as a tendency to rely only on evidence that justifies a pre-agreed course of action and to summarily dismiss evidence that counters that action.

Hindsight bias is the human tendency to view events, particularly adverse ones, as being almost inevitable but only by looking backwards after they have occurred. In effect, the bias induces a sense of ‘knew it all along’, when in reality it may have been less obvious or predictable. This distorted memory can induce poor preparation and planning to deal with future circumstances.

Trustee boards do make collective decisions that have far reaching and serious consequences for their members. It would be a pity to hear of trustee boards that are completely unaware of the all-too human frailties of their own decision making.

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