Minority Opinions: A Vital Role in Team Success

Topic: Teams, Decision Making
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (SEP 2010)
Article: A Multilevel Model of Minority Opinion Expression and Team Decision-Making Effectiveness
Authors: G. Park, R.P. DeShon
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

Pop quiz, hot shot.  There’s a meeting in a conference room. Your team seems to reach quick consensus, but with a flash of independent thought, you see through the group’s flawed logic and are baffled by their oversights.  You must now decide if you should rock the boat and voice your minority opinion. What do you do?

According to recent research by Park and DeShon (2010), the decision should be clear:  Minority opinions are vital to team success, and they must be expressed.  Similar to Janis (1982) who explained how groupthink can lead to catastrophe, these authors present a roadmap to team success that centers around minority opinion holders’ confidence to speak up and influence the group.

The authors propose a model which they support through a study that included 180 participants who worked in teams on a task that mimicked airport security luggage inspection.  Team dynamics and decision-making processes were observed and recorded, and participants provided several self-reports of their attitudes.  The authors found that their model accurately portrays how minority opinions can contribute to team success.

Here’s how it works.  First, teams need to be “learning goal oriented”.  This means team members believe that lots of communication, exploring alternatives, and sometimes making mistakes, will ultimately lead to greater clarity and better decisions.  This open atmosphere makes minority opinion holders more confident and more likely to speak up.

All this, explain the authors, will increase team discussion.  And the more discussion, the better.  This is because some minority opinions only surface later in discussions.

The authors say that when teams engage in more discussion and minority opinion holders have confidence to express their opinions, then minority opinions end up exerting more influence on the team.  Why is this good?  First, minority opinions provide teams with a greater array of options from which to select the best outcome.  This makes it more likely that the team will find the best possible solution.  Second, when minority opinions are welcomed, team members experience more self-esteem and more perceived control, and this leads to greater overall team satisfaction. 

One unique major finding of this study, say the authors, is that teams and minority opinion holders influence each other.  That is, teams can create an environment that encourages people to speak their mind.  Concurrently, when people speak their mind teams adjust and engage in more discussion and scrutiny. 

These results have implications for all team members if you want to be part of a high performing team.  If you’re holding back a minority opinion, don’t be afraid to voice it.  Boldly stand up on your chair, clench your fists, and scream it at the top of your lungs!  Or, at a minimum, say what you think.  And team members, do not laugh at that person.  Instead, seriously consider their opinion.  You will all stand to gain.

Park, G., & DeShon, R.P. (2010).  A Multilevel Model of Minority Opinion Expression and Team Decision-Making Effectiveness.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(5), 824-833.