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The following article
was written by Coleman Patterson and
appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.
Groups outperform individuals on mental tasks, December 2, 2007, 2D
An effective and
interactive way to demonstrate the ability of groups to outperform individuals on mental
tasks is the Lost on the Moon exercise. In
the activity, participants are given a list of items that are available to them while they
await rescue on the dark side of the moon. Variations
of this exercise also existlike being trapped in the dessert or wilderness.
The first step in
the exercise is to have participants complete the assessment completely by themselves. Participants must rank the importance of 18
different items for survival on the moonwhich include things like tanks of oxygen, a
compass, matches, milk concentrate, flares, a solar-powered radio transmitter, and a tarp. During this phase, participants are not allowed to
ask questions, talk with others, or look up answers in any way. They should rely only upon the knowledge that they
possess in their heads at the time of the activity.
After everyone has
completed their individual rankings, participants are then divided into groups of four to
six people each and complete the exercise again as teams.
It is important that everyone in the group participates and gives input into
the group ranking. A group of five with only
two contributing members is really only a group of two with three bystanders. All members must participate in the group output.
When the groups
complete their rankings, group and individual answers are scored by comparing them against
expert rankings for the items. The
closer the participant answers match the expert rankings, the better the score on the
exercise. A member of each group should
calculate the group score as well as their own individual score. The facilitator of the activity will ask each
group to provide its group score on the exercise as well as the average of the scores of
the individual members. The group and average
individual scores should be written somewhere so that all participants can see them.
When the directions
are followed and participants take the exercise seriously, the group score will almost
always be better than the average individual score. It
shows that individuals, when solving mental tasks, only have their own experiences and
knowledge to draw upon to solve problems. When
individuals work together as teams, their abilities to solve problems are enhanced. This synergistic effect is a result of the
combination of the knowledge and past experiences of the group members. The past experiences of four to six people will
always be greater than the knowledge and past experiences of any single member.
As a group
development tool, exercises like these help show the importance of groups and teamwork to
organizational performance. Managers can use
these exercises to show organizational members the importance of individual differences
and experiences to a team and to demonstrate the importance of all members working
together to solve problems. The
investment of a little time to conduct a Lost on the Moon exercise with groups
of workers could return big benefits for organizations.
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