We ended our first week of “Leadership in a Global Context” with “Everest V3”, a simulation built to emulate the decision making and team dynamics that go into summiting mount Everest. Groups of five were assigned and each student was given a special role with their own goals and abilities, and it was our job to work together to get to the top. My biggest takeaway from the experience is the importance of actively engaging with and clearly communicating a group’s sum knowledge of a problem before coming to a decision, especially knowledge that only one or two members may possess. Because the simulation specialized each of the participants, we each were given varying information about each event, and could only find a solution in the collection of all of our knowledge. Similarly, being transparent and communicative of your goals is also essential, highlighted by the fundamentally incongruous objectives set out for each team member. The best choices and compromises for everybody could only be reached once everyone in the group was sharing and communicating what they knew and wanted.
Our approach to this unavailable information changed over time. For the first challenge, we didn’t even fully register that we had different details given about our day. Once we started to pick up on the importance of our unshared knowledge, we tried to emphasize more the information we thought was only given to us, but this still proved somewhat ineffective—it was very difficult to judge what information would be ‘common’ and what information wouldn’t. By the third challenge, we first pooled all of the information we had, no matter how unimportant. Once we were all fully briefed on it, we then started to try and figure out a solution. This ultimately proved the most successful strategy, and while we did get the challenge wrong due to a math mistake, we came very close. In general, getting to this uncommon knowledge is much harder because of the ‘common information effect’: in general, people much prefer talking about things everybody already knows. One of the obvious reasons for this is simply probability—if everybody knows it it is a lot more likely to be brought up—but also we just feel better sharing things that have already been shared because it avoids disagreement and is automatically consistent. These types of asymmetries are not something I’ve really ever thought about or engaged with before, and going forward I hope to more actively solicit information that isn’t common, even if it disagrees with the prevailing narrative. To actually create an optimal solution, every piece of information available is absolutely necessary.
The simulation also highlighted the importance of building psychologically safe spaces, especially the ways group leaders foster them. Without such an environment, members are much less likely to actively participate and speak their mind; they might feel too uncomfortable or unsafe to bring up anything that disagrees with the current thought. Leaders must actively try to create and maintain this safety by making sure every voice is heard. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but guaranteeing that quieter members stay engaged and active and more talkative members give room for them to participate is essential. The simulation also highlighted another important element of being a leader: the need for a clear group process. It is incredibly valuable to explicitly agree on a method by which the group comes to decisions, instead of allowing it to be up to interpretation later when tensions and disagreement may be running higher. Without a clear process, groups will work much less efficiently and may have poorer psychological safety. Process includes but is not limited to the way decisions are debated and discussed and the way decisions are actually concluded, and both aspects need to be worked on to see success. Leaders must make sure a constructive dialogue is being produced by directing and soliciting as appropriate, and must clearly establish the metric by which final choices are made. “Everest V3” proved to be a really interesting and captivating simulation, and I’m excited to continue the work next week!