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Coalition Government – Lessons for Crisis Management

In the media commentary surrounding the formation of the UK’s first coalition government in over 60 years; many reservations were expressed about the ability of a coalition to manage the ongoing economic crisis. A central theme of these discussions was a belief in the need for strong, single-minded leadership in a crisis but is there any evidence that this is true?

Actually, much of the available evidence would suggest the contrary. In particular, homogeneous teams with a strong self-identity are particularly prone to ‘Groupthink’ – the breakdown of critical reasoning at crucial moments in the decision making process. Simply by increasing the diversity of viewpoints in a team one would therefore hope to reduce the risk of making obviously poor choices.

Furthermore many mistakes in Crisis Management arise from ‘Optimistic Overconfidence’ – the widespread tendency to overestimate one’s ability to predict and control the future. The humbling effect on all politicians of the recent election result will hopefully help to mitigate this tendency.

In summary, many of the concerns about coalition government appeared to confuse the efficiency (ie speed) of decision making with the effectiveness of the decisions made. Unlike the military and emergency services; governments rarely have to make important decisions on the timescale of minutes or hours. They have, in fact, ample time to discuss and debate different points of view and will hopefully arrive at better decisions as a result.

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