Effects of Consensus and Devill's Advocacy On Strategic Decision-Making


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Charles R. Schwenk, Department of Management, Indiana University, School of Business 660, Bloomington, IN 47405-1701.


Strategic consensus within management teams is thought to affect company performance because of its effects on the quality of team decision-making (Bourgeois, 1985, p. 571). Past research dealing with the relationship between consensus and company performance, however, has not specifically examined the effects of consensus on decision-making. The debate on the effects of strategic consensus parallels a debate on the effects of consensus-based and conflict-based decision aids (Schweiger & Finger, 1984; Schweiger, Sandberg, & Ragan, 1986; Schwenk, 1988). The experiment described in this paper is the first which deals with the effects of group consensus and conflict-based decision aids on group decision-making. The results showed that high-consensus groups generally had higher performance, suggesting that consensus improves group decision-making. Further, groups given the decision technique of devil's advocacy had higher levels of critical evaluation in decision-making but less desire to work with each other in the future, suggesting that devil's advocacy has mixed effects on decision-making groups. An interaction effect showed that devil's advocacy increased the commitment of high-consensus group members to the decisions their groups had reached but did not have a similar effect on low-consensus groups. This result demonstrates the importance of examining both consensus and decision aids simultaneously. The implications of the results for the interpretation of past research on consensus and on conflict-based decision aids are offered in the conclusion.