Imagine you’re contemplating a large move by yourself. You may begin your research by looking at different states or countries, various homes, crime rates, job opportunities, and entertainment options near your new residence.
Now imagine contemplating that same move with a family of six. Suddenly, you have to take into account the needs of each family member—one wants to go to a school that offers cooking classes, one of them hates colder climates, one wants a large enough property to have a pony, etc.
This example begins to answer an important question: How does decision-making in teams differ from individual decision-making? Group decision-making can be more difficult because it introduces another level of complexity—you have to weigh multiple (and sometimes conflicting) perspectives.
When making business decisions as a group, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and it’s also tempting to ignore everyone else’s wishes to push your own motives to the forefront. Thankfully, the following group decision-making techniques can help give everyone a voice while bringing calm to the chaos.
The importance of using group decision-making techniques in management
If using a group to come to a decision is so complicated, why not just make a well-considered decision as a leader without consulting the group at all? Because no one likes a dictator—but also because there are some great advantages to consulting a group before making a decision.
Getting multiple perspectives
Say you’re preparing to launch an exercise tracker app. The app relies on sensors to track movement and steps. However, the app is biased toward the movement of the people who designed it; you may not have considered, for instance, that some people move with the help of a wheelchair. Or that some people prefer to exercise in a pool.
Group decision making captures many different perspectives and ultimately introduces viewpoints you may never have considered. That’s especially valuable when developing a product because those perspectives can be used to meet the needs of a much larger and diverse base of users.
Relying on just one person to make decisions about the product means that, even if the person is very empathetic, the product will be limited by and biased in favor of that person’s worldview.
Gaining buy-in from stakeholders
One of the most important techniques to use as a manager is relying on experts for their input. If you’re a CEO and are developing software, for instance, it’s important to gain buy-in from the development team before making a unilateral decision about new features. The developers will let you know what’s feasible and will set expectations about the scope and timeline of development, but they’ll also be more likely to help you if they feel you respect their expertise.
That’s really the most important thing. Stakeholders want to feel included and respected, and if you don’t consult them, they will be much less likely to help with a project.
In fact, without gaining that buy-in, you may encounter significant resistance moving forward. Stakeholders also give valuable perspectives that you may not consider when making decisions, as they’re often looking at things from their team’s point of view. In the case of executive leadership, they consider the wider impact decisions have on the business. That’s why collaboration with stakeholders is a vital part of the decision-making process.
Advantages and disadvantages of group decision-making
Group decision-making isn’t all bliss and enhanced perspective. Sometimes using a group to make a decision isn’t the right choice, so when considering whether to use a group for help, keep the following advantages and disadvantages:
- It enhances a culture of collaboration.
- It allows input from various perspectives.
- It increases interest and participation.
- It allows risk to be diffused across the group instead of resting on one person. For instance, if Brian made the decision to install a ping pong table that’s now become a distraction for the entire business, it’s easy to blame Brian. But when the group decides to get a ping pong table, the entire group is responsible, and not just poor Brian.
- It can increase the strength of an organization and improve its culture.
- Using a group to reach a decision takes longer than using a single person.
- Some people will not contribute to the decision.
- Some input will be biased.
- No one has to take full accountability for the decision.
- The group can lose focus on the business goals.
- Some members of the group may be more dominant than others and influence the group. This is preventable with the correct method for decision-making.
- Some members may not be interested in the outcome and not make a meaningful contribution.
5 group decision-making techniques
Not every decision-making technique will be right for every context, and it may take some experimentation to decide on the right strategy for the situation. Here are four group decision making techniques to help your team come to a consensus.
1. Dot voting/multivoting
Dot voting is a simple and effective way to make a decision as a group quickly. In dot voting, team members first contribute their ideas to be voted on. Then, participants vote on their preferred option using dot stickers. The option with the most votes wins.
- This is an easy way to vote, and it’s difficult to dispute the results.
- Options can be presented at once so team members can weigh each option.
- Dot voting gameifies the process and increases engagement.
- Seeing others’ votes creates the tendency to go with the most popular option.
- Vote-splitting means related options may lose to unrelated options.
- This process only works for very simple, totally unrelated options.
- If some options are difficult and some are easy to execute, the group will have a tendency to choose the easy option.
2. Nominal group technique
In this group decision making technique, an issue or problem is presented, and each member of the group writes down as many solutions or ideas that come to mind within a set period of time (usually about five minutes).
Then, each member of the group reads one idea or solution aloud, and the leader records the idea. The group votes on the ideas and moderators tally the votes to determine the highest-rated ideas. Finally, the group ranks the ideas by order of priority, and the highest-voted idea is the final selection.
- This technique is great for facilitating creative ideas.
- It’s great for narrowing down a long list of ideas.
- It allows for full participation from each member of the group.
- It allows for silent contemplation (good for including more reserved team members).
- It allows for the idea with the broadest appeal to win.
- It can take a while to come to an agreement.
- There is a lack of spontaneity.
- This technique can only handle with one problem at a time.
3. Delphi technique
Also referred to as the estimate-talk-estimate technique, this group decision making technique collects opinions from a group of experts through several rounds of questions. The method is often used in reserach settings using a panel of experts. But your team can apply the same techniques to decisions big or small.
First, your team identifies the issue and defines an objective. Then, a facilitator is chosen. The facilitator then submits a questionnaire to the group—the team answers these questions anonymously and then reviews the responses. The panel is then given the questions to consider again. The process typically repeats itself two to three times. The process allows the group to reflect on each others’ views and develop their opinions accordingly. The idea is that eventually the group’s opinions will converge to form a consensus.
- This technique is best when making a very big, high-stakes decision.
- One person doesn’t affect the opinions of all because responses are weighted equally.
- The committee can be consulted without the constraints of a large group, such as long discussions or scheduling arrangements.
- It takes time to reach a consensus.
- Delphi is primarily used in the early stage of a process.
- Participants may change their answers based on what they think the group wants (called the bandwagon effect).
4. Decision trees
A decision tree is essentially a flowchart—visualized as a hierarchical tree structure—that uses branches to lead the group through different decisions and their likely consequences. In a decision tree, an internal node represents a question or test, each branch represents possible outcomes and connects outcomes to their tests, and leaf nodes represent a decision.
- It’s easy to understand and helpful to visualize outcomes.
- Great for breaking down complex decisions.
- Decision trees require less data cleaning.
- It is easy to generate rules.
- Decision trees don’t handle non-numeric data well.
- Not great for brainstorming.
- Large trees can require pruning.
The key to group decision making is to lean on process and structure. Use the above techniques to make well-considered choices and mitigate risk for the best outcome possible. You may even find your organization’s culture becomes one of collaboration and teamwork.
5. Visual Activities
Visual Activities take the guesswork out of achieving consensus. Engage your team with dynamic, customizable activities, then access summarized results in seconds. Choose between prioritization activities (invite participants to rank or place items or ideas using an axis, slider, or matrix) and categorization activities (invite participants to sort items into different categories). With Visual Activities, gaining consensus is as easy as viewing results.
- They are highly customizable to your use case
- Gain consensus within seconds
- Engaging activity that is enjoyable for team members to participate in
- Great for groups of all sizes
- Team members will submit their answers individually, so groupthink bias won’t be a concern
- Requires some prep work before the activity can be shared and used
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