Evaluating team decision-making as an emergent phenomenon

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Abstract

Background

The complexity of modern clinical practice has highlighted the fallibility of individual clinicians’ decision-making, with effective teamwork emerging as a key to patient safety. Dual process theory is widely accepted as a framework for individual decision-making, with type 1 processes responsible for fast, intuitive and automatic decisions and type 2 processes for slow, analytical decisions. However, dual process theory does not explain cognition at the group level, when individuals act in teams. Team cognition resulting from dynamic interaction of individuals is said to be more resilient to decision-making error and greater than simply aggregated cognition.

Methods

Clinicians were paired as teams and asked to solve a cognitive puzzle constructed as a drug calculation. The frequency at which the teams made incorrect decisions was compared with that of individual clinicians answering the same question.

Results

When clinicians acted in pairs, 63% answered the cognitive puzzle correctly, compared with 33% of clinicians as individuals, showing a statistically significant difference in performance (χ2 (1, n=116)=24.329, P<0.001). Based on the predicted performance of teams made up of the random pairing of individuals who had the same propensity to answer as previously, there was no statistical difference in the actual and predicted teams’ performance.

Conclusions

Teams are less prone to making errors of decision-making than individuals. However, the improved performance is likely to be owing to the effect of aggregated cognition rather than any improved decision-making as a result of the interaction. There is no evidence of team cognition as an emergent and distinct entity.

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