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Research Overview:

Professor Roberto's research focuses on strategic decision-making processes and senior management teams. His work has examined how leaders can cultivate constructive conflict within their executive teams so as to enhance the quality of strategic decisions, while simultaneously building the consensus required to implement those choices effectively. As a subset of this research stream, Professor Roberto has examined a number of catastrophic group and organizational failures such as the Columbia Space Shuttle Accident, the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy, and the 1994 Storm King Mountain incident. This work has explored the organizational and interpersonal decision-making dynamics that cause large-scale failures to occur.  Professor Roberto's latest research examines the capabilities that each leader must master so as to detect the smaller problems that often precede major crises and failures.  

In his 2005 book, Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes For An Answer, Professor Roberto examines why many organizations do not engage in sufficient dissent and debate. He argues that the lack of candid dialogue and constructive conflict impairs the strategic decision-making in many corporations and public sector institutions. Of course, dissent alone does not improve decision-making. Great leaders must stimulate a productive debate, but then drive toward closure as well. As they strive for closure, successful leaders build the commitment and shared understanding required for an effective implementation. Drawing from nearly ten years of his own research, as well as the studies of others, Professor Roberto provides a primer for leaders who want to improve their decision-making processes through the astute cultivation and management of constructive conflict.

In his new book, Know What You Don't Know, Professor Roberto shifts the focus from problem-solving to what he calls the "problem-finding" capabilities of effective leaders.   This new book examines how leaders can unearth the small problems that are likely to lead to large-scale failures in their organizations.   He explains how leaders need to shift from fighting fires to detecting smoke, so that they can detect and interrupt the chain of errors that often precedes a major failure.  Then, the book identifies seven key problem-finding capabilities that every leader must develop in order to become successful at averting crises in their organizations.  


Roberto, Michael A.  2009.  Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Wharton School Publishing.
To listen to a podcast about the book, click here.


Roberto, Michael A. 2005. Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes For An Answer. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton Publishing.

To listen to a podcast about the book, click here.

Selected Articles:

Roberto, Michael A. (2007). “Why Catastrophic Organizational Failures Happen.”  In C. Wankel (ed.),  21st Century Management.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.

Roberto, Michael A., Richard M.J. Bohmer, and Amy C. Edmondson, "Facing Ambiguous Threats." Harvard Business Review. (Fall 2006).

Edmondson, Amy C., Michael A. Roberto, Richard M.J. Bohmer, Erika M. Ferlins, and Laura R. Feldman. "The Recovery Window: Organizational Learning Following Ambiguous Threats in High-Risk Organizations." in Organization at the Limit: Lessons from the Columbia Disaster, Eds. M. Farjoun and W. Starbuck, Blackwell Publishers, United Kingdom (2005).

Edmondson, A., Michael A. Roberto, and Anita Tucker, "Children's Hospital and Clinics." Journal of Organizational Behavior Education (2006).

Roberto, Michael A. "Don't Take Yes For An Answer." Government Executive. Vol. 38 No.8. (2006).

Roberto, Michael A. and Lynne Levesque. "Strategic Initiatives: Changing the Firm's DNA." Sloan Management Review (Summer 2005).

Roberto, Michael A. "Deciding How To Decide." CIO Magazine. (November 1, 2005).

Roberto, Michael A. "Why Making The Decisions The Right Way Is More Important Than Making the Right Decisions." Ivey Business Journal (2005).

Garvin, David A., and Michael A. Roberto. "Change Through Persuasion." Harvard Business Review (February 2005).

Roberto, Michael A. "Teaching Business Leadership Using Non-Business Case Studies." International Journal of Leadership Education. (2005).

Roberto, Michael A. "Strategic Decision-Making Processes: Beyond the Efficiency-Consensus Tradeoff." Group and Organization Management Vol. 29, no. 6 (2004): 625-658.

Edmondson, A., Michael A. Roberto, and Michael Watkins. "A Dynamic Model of Top Management Team Effectiveness: Managing Unstructured Task Streams." Leadership Quarterly 14, no. 3 (June 2003): 297-325.

Roberto, Michael A. "The Stable Core and Dynamic Periphery in Top Management Teams." Management Decision 41, no. 2 (2003).

Roberto, Michael A. "Lessons from Everest: The Interaction of Cognitive Bias, Psychological Safety, and System Complexity." California Management Review (fall 2002).

Roberto, Michael A. "Making Difficult Decisions in Turbulent Times." Ivey Business Journal (January 2002).

Garvin, David A., and Michael A. Roberto. "What You Don't Know About Making Decisions." Harvard Business Review 79, no. 8 (September 2001): 108-116.

Case Studies:

Professor Roberto has published many Harvard Business School case studies, including several innovative multi-media case studies. His cases include:

For a complete list of Professor Roberto's cases, please visit the Harvard Business School Publishing website.