Collaboration can bring about positive change and innovation. It can increase the engagement and morale of employees and improve the productivity and profitability of a business. But no matter how good your intentions may be, traditional teamwork is teeming with biases that undermine a group’s effectiveness. Here are the top ten cognitive biases standing in the way of your successful collaboration.
“Self-delusion is as much a part of the human condition as fingers and toes” claims David McRaney, author of You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself. Self-delusion is very much the basis for bias and it can seem like an insurmountable obstacle when working as a biased individual in a team of equally biased individuals.
Our cognitive biases are elusive and difficult to escape. They are the warped contact lenses through which we see the world, the fundamentally flawed judgements that colour our preferences. The reason we have so much trouble seeing them is because we’re too busy seeing with them. Our biases help us make decisions, from choosing between coffee and tea to hiring a new employee. They help us form and confirm our opinions and ally us with those who share similar outlooks to us. But biases very easily give way to stubborn prejudices.
“Implicit biases subtly influence how we see, respect, and work with others” says Andy Zynga, CEO of NineSigma, in a Harvard Business Review article about the detrimental impact of bias on innovation. In fact, our pre-disposal to pre-judgement is a major stumbling block when it comes to collaborating with others, “causing major issues within organizations because they breed stereotypes and can inhibit fair, equity-based workplaces”.
Biases worm their way into the very core of our collaborative efforts, whether it’s in the way the team is structured, its processes, policies or within its social interactions. In fact, there are some biases that thrive on teamwork, and here are just a few.
1. THE GROUPTHINK OR BANDWAGON EFFECT
This bias plays on our need to ‘fit in’ and conform to social norms. An individual’s perspective can be steered toward a group’s agenda, even if that individual doesn’t actually agree with the group’s beliefs. The fear of being the odd-one out and ridiculed coupled with the belief that others are smarter than us leads us to doubt ourselves and favor the collective response. This is the bias that prevents an individual from speaking up and expressing an alternative view.
2. INGROUP BIAS
We’re suffering from in-group bias when we favor our group members over those who are outside our group to the extent that it could be professionally detrimental. In-group bias makes us fearful, suspicious and even contemptuous of others, meaning that the group will stick together and continue to work as a team more out of habit and anxiety and less out of consideration for the good of the project or business as a whole.
3. BLINDSPOT BIAS
We missed a spot… and that spot is us. If we think we have fewer biases than Marie-Noel in accounting or Jean Guy in HR, then we may be suffering from a case of blind spot bias. Because it’s much easier to pick up on other people’s biases than our own, we spend more time thinking about how someone else might be wrong and neglect to self-reflect.
4. PROJECTION BIAS
A projection bias is when we presume that others think the way we do, making the same cognitive connections to reach a conclusion… even if there’s no validation for making this assumption. It’s an easy mistake to make because it’s hard to climb outside our own perspectives. It can have a negative effect on collaboration though, as it could lead to misunderstandings, and not just within a group. If, for example, a marketing team is launching a campaign targeted at their primary demographic, they could easily fall short of success by wrongly assuming their target audience will perceive their message as it was intended.
5. FALSE CONSENSUS EFFECT
Closely related to the projection bias is the false consensus effect. This happens when we wrongly assume that everyone shares our own beliefs and opinions. I’m pretty sure everyone can agree that this can be a dangerous bias for a team leader to possess… see what I did there?
6. CONFIRMATION BIAS
This is one we’re all guilty of; seeking and finding information that supports our existing beliefs… and ignoring evidence to the contrary. This kind of bias inhibits us from being able to “think outside the box” or fully benefit from the alternative views within a collaborative group.
7. FUNCTIONAL FIXEDNESS
Connected to confirmation bias is functional fixedness, the tendency to see something or someone as possessing a very particular, fixed role. This could lead a group participant or even leader to overlook someone’s potential to fill a role or perform a duty that goes beyond what’s assigned to them.
8. OVERCONFIDENCE BIAS
Confidence can be a good thing, but too much of it can reduce your openness to other’s ideas and suggestions. Combined with groupthink, this bias can affect the team as a whole by causing the majority of the group to lean toward overconfidence, reducing the likelihood that the minority will speak up against a potentially bad idea.
9. THE IKEA OR SUNK COST EFFECT
Sometimes it’s best to realize when we’ve made a mistake and bow out gracefully. This is easier said than done. If we’ve invested time and money into something (be it an employee, a project or a strategy), it’s very difficult to give up on it. The Ikea bias can cause a lot of friction within a group and can make us more reluctant to consider alternative, more effective solutions.
10. THE PLANNING FALLACY
The underestimation of time, effort and money required to complete a project is a common bias in collaborations working on specific assignments. With this bias, a whole team could end up spending far more time, money and effort on a project than originally anticipated. Coupled with the Ikea effect, the planning fallacy can result in severe financial implications for a business.
So clearly biases are a major issue in collaboration. The question is, how do we attempt to overcome them? Is it possible for team members to filter their cognitive biases in order to make intelligent business decisions? Well, actually yes. Academics and researchers are now making the case for online collaborative tools that undermine biases at their roots and balance group equilibrium. These kinds of tools render users anonymous, encouraging individuals to express their opinions and discouraging biases such as groupthink, projection bias and false consensus effect. They can improve collaborative productivity and profitability while also positively impacting individual and collective morale.
Sounds ideal, but you don’t know where to start? Why not take your first steps toward improving your collaborations with us?