Self-awareness is the key to more effective team discussions

When we’re unsure of an answer to a question or need help solving a problem, we often turn to our coworkers for collaboration. Indeed, businesses and organizations have long relied on the wisdom of the crowd to produce better outcomes than the individual can achieve alone. New research from Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Barbara Mellers and Wharton doctoral student Ike Silver challenges that notion, revealing that sometimes the crowd can be overly confident without merit.

Four people sit at a table at work, one with a laptop, one smiling at a colleague

In their paper, “Wise Teamwork: Collective Confidence Calibration Predicts the Effectiveness of Group Discussion,” the researchers explain why the composition of the group is critical to achieving better results. 

The two note that when a crowd engages in conversations, sometimes accuracy can suffer. Says Silver, “When we allow people to talk to one another, their errors become correlated, which is to say that they listen to one another. That can be a really great thing if the group is mostly listening to someone who is on the smarter end of the distribution of people in the group. But it can also be a bad thing if people are listening to someone who is persuasive but not necessarily knowledgeable.”

“We wanted to know the conditions under which discussions helped people’s judgment,” says Mellers, “and we came up with a paradigm to answer that question that’s really quite simple.”

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.