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Group Decision Making Methods

Helping great minds to think alike!

Group Decision Making Methods

Helping great minds to think alike!

What group decision making methods do you use? If you’re unsure how to answer that question, then this article will help you think through some relevant approaches.

All groups have to make decisions, but it’s often unclear how to agree on them. The first step is to think through your own preferences as a team leader or manager, what do you want to achieve? Then consider the nature of the situation and the expectations of team members.

Wherever possible, decisions should be made at the lowest level possible. The closer to the action the better, where knowledge of the situation is greatest. But before discussing some group decision making methods there is an important question to address…

Why Make Group Decisions?

Encouraging group decision making or problem solving has several advantages. For example:

  • Everybody has the opportunity to bring their experience, knowledge and skills to the situation.
  • Those closest to the situation often know valuable information.
  • Participation in decision making makes for better decisions.
  • Group and team members are more likely to ensure a decision works if they have been part of making that decision.
First Things First

Even if you have decided to apply group decision making methods, first you’ll need to consider your own style preferences, and the situation you’re in. Typically, a team leader adopts styles across a continuum, such as:

  • Directive style – where the leader decides and tells the group/team.
  • Consultative style – where the leader makes the decision and consults, persuading and gaining support.
  • Participative style – where the situation is explained but everyone is encouraged to participate.
  • Delegative style – where the leader gives the responsibility for the decision to the group/team, providing support where needed.

The approach you adopt will be affected by both your own preference, and by the situation you are in. For example, a crisis situation may require immediate or decisive action. Such a situation may not allow the time for consultative or participative styles, and you may need to use a directive approach.

Involving Others

Your approach may also be affected by group or team characteristics or dynamics. For example, experienced or knowledgeable teams are far more likely to require a participative or delegative style than teams made up of novices. In fact forcing such a style is likely to be counter-productive, alienating the team.

Here are some useful things to consider when deciding how to involve others. Think about:

  • The amount of time available to deal with the issue.
  • The extent to which the group is affected by the decision.
  • Whether people need to think through how decisions may affect them and their areas of work.
  • The amount of experience, expertise and knowledge the group members bring to the decision making process.
  • The importance of the decision to be made: size; scale; scope; ramifications
  • The importance of the group’s commitment to the decision.
Some common group decision making methods

Now let’s consider some common group decision making methods. These include decision making by:

  • Consensus – the group has complete agreement on the decision;
  • Authority – the leader makes the final decision;
  • Majority – everyone votes or states their preference, the majority option is the decision;
  • Minority – a few people advocate their view strongly and the rest of the group either go along with the decision, or the minority group block or veto other decision options.
  • Negative minority – the group eliminates the lowest scoring option after a vote.
  • Decision by ranking – group members score a short-list of options (for example allocating 1-5 points for 5 options) and the highest collated scored option is chosen.
  • Unanimity – decisions are only accepted if all group members agree.
  • Combined ideas – group seeks ways to combine ideas if possible, instead of discarding them.
  • No Response – where decisions go unnoticed because they are not recognised as decisions.

(For more ideas and some good examples, visit the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence)

In addition, there are two group decision conditions to watch our for:

  • Group Think – where a group suppresses dissent and conflict so that decisions are not challenged.
  • Risky Shift – where a group tends towards extremes, either being overly cautious or taking greater risks than an individual making the decision might.
Evidence to Support Group Decision Making Methods

Group decision making methodsThere is ample evidence to support the value of group decision making. Ohio State University management professor, Paul C. Nutt, has researched and written widely on the subject of decision making. For example, his study of some 400 decisions, across a range of organisations, revealed that decisions which draw on participation to foster implementation succeed more than 80% of the time.

Yet participation was used to implement only 20% of the decisions researched. There is thus clearly much to be said about the importance of group decision making and the use of group decision making methods. Yet there is still much to be done in terms of benefiting from it!

It would appear that group decision making methods are an underused yet powerful approach to getting better decisions.

You can find out more in Professor Nutt’s book “Why decisions fail.” In the chapter on “Traps in un-managed social and political forces” page 107. (If you have trouble finding it, then search participation using the google books search facility.)

Making Better Decisions

Making Better DecisionsJudgement, intuition, experience and knowledge all come together when making decisions. Regardless of whether you believe in intuition and decision making, you’ll find more on these and other practical techniques in our related e-guides (below) or in Making Better Decisions. Use the tools in this guide to help your decision making:

  • Tool 1: Do you need to make a decision?
  • Tool 2: The POCA decision making model
  • Tool 3: Decision levels
  • Tool 4: 7 step decision making process
  • Tool 5: Team decision making
  • Tool 6: Evaluating alternatives
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