If you have ever been on a conference call or worked remotely, you may have experienced being in the minority when it comes to making decisions on a virtual team. This scenario often results in majority members not wanting to address your concerns when you challenge the majority viewpoint. Whether your insights are radical or marginal, we know that contradictory opinions are needed to foster creativity and combat groupthink, which is a lack of individual creativity that may lead to harmful group consensus. What can organizations do to ensure virtual team members remain open to everyone’s ideas? Researchers (Swaab, Phillips, & Schaerer, 2016) found that awareness of secret conversation opportunities can help.
VIRTUAL TEAMS AND TEAM DECISION MAKING
With the growing globalization of the workforce and enhancements in technology, virtual teams are becoming the new norm in many organizations. Like teams in the same physical location, virtual work groups are often split during decisions, whereby most group members support one viewpoint and a minority of members support an alternative viewpoint. However, majority views are not always correct and must be challenged at times to ensure groups are making quality decisions. The challenge, however, is getting majority members to recognize and engage with minority views.
THE ROLE OF SECRET CONVERSATIONS
In this study, majority group members of a virtual team were given different scenarios in which they had to either respond to or ignore a minority-opinion member’s comment about information that contradicted the majority viewpoint. Results revealed that majority members engaged with minority-opinion viewpoints when secret conversation opportunities (e.g., private chat options) were available to all group members. The reason for this was quite simple: majority members perceive their power to be reduced when other group members can privately converse with one another. Consequently, majority group members are more likely to engage with minority-opinion group members in front of the entire group in an effort to maintain power.
This study is applicable to organizations because it shows that awareness of secret conversation opportunities reduces majority-opinion group members’ sense of power, which can lead to improvements in communication. The authors encourage increased emphasis on opportunities for secret conversation channels so organizations can foster an environment in which minority viewpoints are taken into consideration by majority members. As business leaders seek to drive creativity on virtual teams, secret conversation opportunities may be a critical piece shaping the open communication norms that lead to cutting-edge innovation.
Swaab, R. I., Phillips, K. W., & Schaerer, M. (2016). Secret conversation opportunities facilitate minority influence in virtual groups: The influence on majority power, information processing, and decision quality. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 133, 17-32.