I’ve often wondered why groups of seemingly intelligent and powerful people find it so hard to come to a decision. Government question time comes to mind, as do boards of directors I have had dealings with. But anecdotes aside, there is now real evidence explaining this interesting anomaly.

In a Harvard Business Review article (Feb 24th), researchers found that “power hampers the ability of leaders to work with other leaders”.

Sociological research like this has its limitations, as there is cultural bias and traditionally larger statistical errors. So there will always be exceptions. But I can’t help but agree with the findings based on my experiences.

Despite the fact that “power makes people more creative when working alone”, innovation an inspiration seemed to be among the lowest when groups of ‘leaders’ were trying to work together. And this was consistent across studies. The figure from the HBR article shows how outcomes fall dramatically as group power increases.

Worth noting at this point, is that the exceptions to the general statistical likelihood. In other words, what is the difference between those leaders who don’t work well together, and those that do? The research didn’t point directly to this, but inferred something about those who failed, and thus what to look out for in order to succeed.

If you need to work with other leaders, consider your vulnerability, self-efficacy and emotional intelligence. If you go in to a negotiation-based team environment, then you need to up you interpersonal skills to ensure your ideas are heard, but so are those of others.

Have you run into this yourself? Share your stories in the comments!