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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Helping Groups Become Wiser

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


February 09, 2015

Sunstein and Hastie have been referenced for the last weeks in their research on how groups are blocked in effective work and decision-making. Their article offers some suggestions on creating wiser groups and this week we will share a few that relate to the Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coaching work.

The first and most available is to silence the leader. When a leader offers his/her thinking early, this shuts down the open dialogue as it promotes the reputational pressures. This is particularly true in groups where there are perceived “low-status” members, e.g., less educated members, minorities, and women. In our work, we differentiate the person of role and knowledge authority and advocate they hold back on ideas until a later time.

Examine the norms and culture of the group. Is the expectation about getting along or about critical thinking? When the assumption is about getting along, members become silent. Priming critical thinking can be accomplished by using protocols and strategies taught in Adaptive Schools.

Reward the success of the group rather than the individual. Individuals will contribute more when s/he sees identification with the group’s success is more important than any individual. Unfortunately many performance pay systems have stifled this interdependence and have caused members to hold back and not take any risks to share in groups.

Use Delphi methods for thinking starting with individual thinking, combining to pairs, then groups of four or more to find common ground in a tiered process. In Adaptive Schools we teach the strategy of pyramiding to help groups achieve this.

As an individual in a group, how might you assist your colleagues in becoming aware of some of these strategies? How might you model these given your role in the groups in which you serve? Which ones might be most productive right now given your group’s current developmental stage?


Sunstein, C. & Hastie, R. (2014). Making Dumb Groups Smarter. Harvard Business Review, p. 90-98.

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