Dynamic Networks Improve Remote Decision-Making

Article by Abdullah Almaatouq and Alex “Sandy” Pentland: “The idea of collective intelligence is not new. Research has long shown that in a wide range of settings, groups of people working together outperform individuals toiling alone. But how do drastic shifts in circumstances, such as people working mostly at a distance during the COVID-19 pandemic, affect the quality of collective decision-making? After all, public health decisions can be a matter of life and death, and business decisions in crisis periods can have lasting effects on the economy.

During a crisis, it’s crucial to manage the flow of ideas deliberatively and strategically so that communication pathways and decision-making are optimized. Our recently published research shows that optimal communication networks can emerge from within an organization when decision makers interact dynamically and receive frequent performance feedback. The results have practical implications for effective decision-making in times of dramatic change….

Our experiments illustrate the importance of dynamically configuring network structures and enabling decision makers to obtain useful, recurring feedback. But how do you apply such findings to real-world decision-making, whether remote or face to face, when constrained by a worldwide pandemic? In such an environment, connections among individuals, teams, and networks of teams must be continually reorganized in response to shifting circumstances and challenges. No single network structure is optimal for every decision, a fact that is clear in a variety of organizational contexts.

Public sector. Consider the teams of advisers working with governments in creating guidelines to flatten the curve and help restart national economies. The teams are frequently reconfigured to leverage pertinent expertise and integrate data from many domains. They get timely feedback on how decisions affect daily realities (rates of infection, hospitalization, death) — and then adjust recommended public health protocols accordingly. Some team members move between levels, perhaps being part of a state-level team for a while, then federal, and then back to state. This flexibility ensures that people making big-picture decisions have input from those closer to the front lines.

Witness how Germany considered putting a brake on some of its reopening measures in response to a substantial, unexpected uptick in COVID-19 infections. Such time-sensitive decisions are not made effectively without a dynamic exchange of ideas and data. Decision makers must quickly adapt to facts reported by subject-area experts and regional officials who have the relevant information and analyses at a given moment….(More)“.