Chapter 10. Working Groups: Performance and Decision Making

Chapter Learning Objectives

1. Understanding Social Groups

  • Define the factors that create social groups and perceptions of entitativity.
  • Define the concept of social identity, and explain how it applies to social groups.
  • Review the stages of group development and dissolution.

2. Group Performance

  • Describe the situations under which social facilitation and social inhibition might occur, and review the theories that have been used to explain these processes.
  • Outline the effects of member characteristics, process gains, and process losses on group performance.
  • Summarize how social psychologists classify the different types of tasks that groups are asked to perform.
  • Explain the influence of social loafing on group performance.

3. Group Decision Making

  • Explain factors that can lead to process gain in group versus individual decision making.
  • Explain how groupthink can harm effective group decision making.
  • Outline the ways that lack of information sharing can reduce decision-making quality in group contexts.
  • Explain why brainstorming can often be counterproductive to sound decision making in groups.
  • Describe how group polarization can lead groups to make more extreme decisions than individuals.
  • Explore important factors that lead juries to make better or worse decisions.

4. Improving Group Performance and Decision Making

  • Review the ways that people can work to make group performance and decision making more effective.
  • Explore the role of motivating people to perform better due to self-interest.
  • Outline ways to improve communication and information sharing in groups.
  • Review research on setting effective group goals.
  • Outline the benefits of challenges of diversity in regards to group performance and decision making.

Gender Diversity in the Workplace

As we saw in our discussions of gender, conformity, and leadership in chapter 6, men, on average, still occupy more senior leadership positions in fields including politics and business. However, recent evidence from Thomson Reuters, from a sample of over 4,000 public companies across the globe, indicates that the proportion of female members on corporate boards has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2012, 59 percent of the companies surveyed reported having at least one woman board member, compared to 56 percent in 2008. Forty-five percent reported that 10 percent or more of their board membership were women, compared to 38 percent in 2008, and 17 percent reported more than 20 percent women members, up from 13 percent in 2008. From a regional perspective, Europe had the highest percentage of women on corporate boards, followed closely by the Americas, while companies in the Asia Pacific region reported having less gender-diverse boards.

Two business men shaking hands at international business meeting. ( by TaxHaven ( used under CC BY (
Figure 10.1

These findings are interesting to social psychologists for many reasons. One is that they indicate that some progress is being made against sexual prejudice and discrimination in the workplace, as well as showing how far these companies still are from achieving sexual equality in board membership.

A fascinating question to ask is whether boards with both women and men as members and the companies they govern actually show better performance than those made up solely of men. The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, appears to be yes. The current Reuters study found that companies with mixed-gender boards had slightly better performance than companies with no women on their boards, and an earlier Reuters study conducted in February 2012 indicated that corporations with more women managers had healthier share prices during turbulent periods in the financial markets.

Andre Chanavat, product manager, Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) at Thomson Reuters, concluded that “This study suggests that the performance of companies with mixed boards matched or even slightly outperformed companies with boards comprised solely of men, further reinforcing the idea that gender equality in the workplace makes good investment and business sense.”

Social psychologists who study group performance and decision making have been particularly curious about when and why having a more diverse group membership can affect group dynamics and functioning. It turns out that there are many possible answers, as we will see in this chapter.

Source: Mining The Metrics Of Board Diversity – Thompson Reuters.

Although people and their worlds have changed dramatically over the course of our history, one fundamental aspect of human existence remains essentially the same. Just as our primitive ancestors lived together in small social groups of families, tribes, and clans, people today still spend a great deal of time in social groups. We go to bars and restaurants, we study together in groups, and we work together on production lines and in businesses. We form governments, play together on sports teams, and use social media to communicate with others. It seems that no matter how much our world changes, humans will always remain social creatures. It is probably not incorrect to say that the human group is the very foundation of human existence; without our interactions with each other, we would simply not be people, and there would be no human culture.

We can define a social group as a set of individuals with a shared purpose and who normally share a positive social identity. While social groups form the basis of human culture and productivity, they also produce some of our most profound disappointments. Groups sometimes create the very opposite of what we might hope for, such as when a group of highly intelligent advisors lead their president to make a poor decision, when a peaceful demonstration turns into a violent riot, or when the members of a clique at a high school tease other students until they become violent.

In this chapter, we will first consider how social psychologists define social groups. This definition will be important not only in this chapter, which deals with small groups working on projects or making decisions, but also in Chapter 11, “Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination,” and Chapter 12, “Competition and Cooperation in Our Social Worlds,” in which we will discuss relationships between larger social groups. In this chapter, we will also review some key lessons from social psychology about effective (and ineffective) group performance and decision making, which have important implications for business, education, politics, law, and many other areas (Kovera & Borgida, 2010; Straus, Parker, & Bruce, 2011).

Taking all the data together, one psychologist once went so far as to comment that “humans would do better without groups!” (Buys, 1978, p. 123). What Buys probably meant by this comment was to acknowledge the enormous force of social groups and to point out the importance of being aware that these forces can have both positive and negative consequences (Allen & Hecht, 2004; Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006; Larson, 2010; Nijstad, 2009). Keep this important idea in mind as you read this chapter.


Allen, N. J., & Hecht, T. D. (2004). The “romance of teams”: Toward an understanding of its psychological underpinnings and implications. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77(4), 439–461. doi: 10.1348/0963179042596469.

Buys, B. J. (1978). Humans would do better without groups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 123–125.

Kovera, M. B., & Borgida, E. (2010). Social psychology and law. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (5th ed., Vol. 2, pp. 1343–1385). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Kozlowski, S. W. J., & Ilgen, D. R. (2006). Enhancing the effectiveness of work groups and teams. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7(3), 77–124. doi: 10.1111/j.1529–1006.2006.00030.x.

Larson, J. R., Jr. (2010). In search of synergy in small group performance. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Levi, D. (2007). Group dynamics for teams (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Nijstad, B. A. (2009). Group performance. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Straus, S. G., Parker, A. M., & Bruce, J. B. (2011). The group matters: A review of processes and outcomes in intelligence analysis. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 15(2), 128–146.

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