4 techniques for group decision-making
Reading time: about 7 min
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, there are decision-making techniques that can help make everyone in the group relatively happy while bringing calm to the chaos.
The importance of 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.
A group brings 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 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 help make a decision isn’t the right choice, so when considering whether to use a group for help, consider 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.
4 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 technique for the right situation. Here are four techniques that are helpful when deciding on a choice as a group:
1. Dot voting/multivoting
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 consider pros and cons of 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 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. Those ideas are voted on by the group and tallied by moderators 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 allows for full participation from each member of the group.
- It allows for silent contemplation.
- It allows for the idea with the broadest appeal to win, not just the idea with the most number of votes.
- It takes a fair amount of time 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 method collects opinions from a group of experts through several rounds of questions.
First, your team identifies the issue and defines an objective. Then, experts (internal or external) are brought in, and a facilitator is chosen. The facilitator then submits a questionnaire to the experts—the experts answer these questions anonymously and then receive the group’s response. The process repeats itself three times in an effort to come close to expert consensus.
- This technique is best when making a very big, high-stakes decision.
- One expert 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.
- A similar question is asked multiple times to the same participants.
4. Decision trees
A decision tree is essentially a flowchart that uses branches to determine decisions and their likely consequences. In a decision tree, an internal node represents a question or test, each branch represents possible outcomes, and leaf nodes represent class labels.
- It’s easy to understand and helpful to visualize outcomes.
- Decision trees require less data cleaning.
- It is easy to generate rules.
- Decision trees don’t handle non-numeric data well.
- Large trees can require pruning.
The key to making decisions as a group 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.
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