Organisational teams: thin slice for responsiveness

Humans and animals do not need complete information to act; they can operate on various clues provided there is a sufficient context. Organizational teams can also use this thin slicing technique in conjunction with short messaging to enhance their performance. Malcolm Gladwell’s introspective book Blink digs deep into the abyss of human cognition to illustrate the human ability to think at a subconscious level. The idea of thin slicing is used where one is introduced to only a few snippets of information which lead to a series of conclusions based on moments of rapid cognition – an ability claimed to be intrinsically dormant in most humans. By bioteams guest author Max Bhanabhai.


The art of thin slicing is introduced as a unique cognitive function which allows one to factor a definite out of indefinite range of variables in order to extrapolate actions and reasoning’s behind the information.

To illustrate this point, Gladwell draws on an experiment conducted by a group of scientists at the University of Iowa by outlaying four decks of cards of two colours, red and blue. The red cards were ‘minefields’ and the blue awarded a steady $50.

Gladwell challenges the preconceived theory of learning by showing that when a gambler was hooked up to a machine that measures activities of the sweat glands these gamblers started generating stress responses to the red decks by the tenth cards, forty cards before they were able to consciously realise the pattern.

This undoubtedly revealed that the human conscious uses two distinct strategies to evaluate and synthesize information. One is what could be called the ‘conscious strategy’ which is logically and definitely derived from an abundance of information. The other refers to the ‘adaptive unconscious’, a fragment of the human brain that lies entirely below the surface of consciousness which relies on ‘fast and frugal’ calculations.

This proves that it is possible to reach conclusions without immediately acknowledging the source of such decisions, something which biological teams perform autonomously.

For example, in an ant colony, a scent trail is left to allow the members of the colony to act accordingly in their biological functions (to get to the source of food).

In an organisational setting, this type of ‘intuitive repulsion’ can be realized by teams.

For example, it is possible for a team to have in place a set of definite values which constitutes their mission or purpose of the team (their spirituality/ecology). When given a set of information, the team should be able to instinctively act accordingly depending on its relation to the overall mission they have defined in their environment (the organisational workplace).

Gladwell’s theories imply that there is a level of subconscious reasoning that translates into humans taking actions at a split second, factoring in very little information and projecting trends. A good example could be the use of SMS messages to relay only small, relevant information of which is still correctly understood at in a given team context.

This inherently reveals that human teams in organisations can use the theory of thin slicing in their everyday activities as long as there is some overall guiding purpose in place, like a set of defined rules and purpose to the team. Every member can then instinctively thin slice the information and perform their duties accordingly, exhibiting complex and autonomous behaviour similar to those of biological teams.

For more on messaging instincts in teams see Group Messaging Instincts: how to recover them

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This brings to mind the idea of the 3 different brains - the Lizard brain, Dog brain and Human brain and applying it to teams.

The lizard brain is the one we use for fast instinctive reactions - often based on incomplete information

See The Team with 3 brains



LOL, three different brains! Good one dude, good one.

ThinSlicing has it's benefits but also has it’s downsides – sometimes fatal!
Check out this story for more.

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