Leaders With Power Kills Group Problem-Solving, Of Course
“When individuals with power are assembled to work as a group on difficult issues, their power had a negative effect on their group’s collective performance. Groups comprised of more high power individuals, be they students given temporary power or executives endowed with actual organizational power, performed worse than groups comprised of neutral or low power individuals – particularly on
tasks that required more coordination among members.
And, these detrimental effects of power on group performance are explained in part by members of these groups experiencing higher levels of status conflict, being less focused on the task at hand and sharing information less effectively with each other compared to other groups. In contrast, for group tasks that required little to no coordination, groups of high power individuals performed better than other groups. It thus appears that group processes are the major cause for failure when high power individuals must work together in groups.”
The effects of power were consistent regardless of whether power was manipulated experimentally
or measured naturalistically in a field setting. The deleterious effects of individuals’ power on group performance stemmed from group nteraction processes, and did not appear to stem from individual-level cognitive effects. That is, power hampered individuals’ ability to work with others, but it did not appear to hinder their ability to think effectively.
…groups comprised of high power individuals performed worse because they experienced greater levels of status conflict and employed worse group processes. Specifically, groups comprised of high power individuals not only fought over status more but were less focused on the task and shared less information with each other. The detrimental effect of power on group performance was mediated by the relatively higher levels of status conflict, and lower levels of task focus and information sharing that
members of these groups experienced compared with members of other groups.
In contrast, the possession of power did not appear to damage individuals’ creativity when they worked alone or on group tasks that required less coordination and did not cause them to generate weaker arguments to support their case in the group negotiations. In fact, high power individuals were more creative when they worked alone or worked on a task that required less inter-member coordination
, and they offered more credible arguments in one of the negotiation studies.
…power can provide performance benefits when individuals work alone or on independent tasks that require less coordination. High power individuals also appeared more motivated to solve a difficult (in fact impossible) task, despite there being no extrinsic reward for completing the task. Taken together, our findings suggest that groups of high power individuals will tend perform worse when a high level of coordination is required, but will perform better when a low level of coordination is required.
… the higher levels of status conflict experienced by groups of high power individuals suggest that opportunities for mutual recognition and voicing of opinions should be identified so as to reduce the potential for status threat and conflict to arise. Formal information-sharing strategies might be implemented so that members of these groups are cognizant of all of the relevant information before making decisions thus mitigating the risk that relevant information is not shared. Structuring meeting time and formalizing decision processes may help these groups focus more on the task at hand than on other matters.
Groups comprised of high power individuals are not simply the sum of their (more capable) parts;
indeed, far from it: groups of powerful individuals underperform relative to other groups when
they are forced to coordinate with each other – precisely, it would seem, because of the
members’ individual power.
It is possible that the deleterious effects of power on group performance would be
exacerbated, given the lack of cohesion and collaboration that typically arises between member s
of different outgroups. However, it is also possible that because the power holders of such groups occupy distinct status hierarchies, less status conflict would emerge and thus fewer
problems would arise.