For Groups

Group Decision Making

There are many Group Decision Making Models available to both community groups and businesses. Generally, diverse groups solve problems better than uniform groups or individuals.

Cooperative Decision Making is one way to make decisions.

There is a need to balance size of group by involving the team and stakeholders in the decision making process. This is basically for the reason to gain commitment to the decision (i.e. involvement = commitment). Another reason is because group decision making increases visibility of process, and therefore quality increases.

Read this article on Types of Group Decision Making. The most important factor in successful group decision making is that every team member is clear about how a particular decision will be made. Who will be making the decision? How will team members be involved? By when? Will we decide by Consensus Decision Making Principles?

Group Decision Making Problems

Risky Shift is essentially related to the old term “There is Safety in numbers.” Groups are more likely to take on risk during group decision making than individuals would on their own.

There are ways to prevent this from occurring in the group decision making process. The group leadership must make sure the issue is discussed fully, and all potentially negative results are discussed. The group should include a risk assessment as one of their steps in selection of an alternative to clearly spell out potential risks, and to document the thoughts and care the group has taken with their decision.

Another Group Decision Making Problem is with a phenomenom called Lowest common denominator. This is caused by voting “majority rules” to select the alternative. This method erodes a sense of ownership of the overall decision. As with risky shift, there are ways to prevent LCD from occurring.

If the group gains consensus on decisions (consensus does not equal agreement on every matter, but rather support), some of this risk disappears. It’s OK to poll to see if there is unanimous agreement. There is risk that there will be group pressure to comply with the rest of the group, if one or two members are at odds. Group Think occurs when a view gets “imposed” on the group by its members. There is a tendency within groups for consensus on decisions. The “Weaker” members acquiesce and adopt views of “stronger” members. This is normally caused by “stronger” members (authority figures) dominating conversation and create “mind share” before other views have been voiced. When the members’ strivings for unanimity, they override their motivation to realistically assess the alternative courses of action.

The Nominal Group Technique is another method which is a mix between individuals and group brainstorm which may help avoid this problem.

There is more likelihood for Group think when the group is highly cohesive, and is isolated from contrary opinions while working on the decision. It is also more likely to occur when the leader is both directive and influential, and makes their wishes known to the group.

This can be prevented by using a facilitator for decision sessions. The group can also appoint a devil’s advocate, and encourage everyone to be a critical evaluator, allowing the weaker members to speak first. They are less influenced by the strong. The leader should not state a preference initially.

The group can be set up as independent groups and divided into subgroups. The members can be encouraged to seek out opinions from those outside the group, and occasionally introduce guests to sessions. The final method might be to collect anonymous opinions. Negative consequences of Group Think are that the group limits its discussion to only a few alternatives. The solution initially favored by most members is never analyzed in full, and the group is less likely to seek out less obvious pitfalls. The group may neglect to evaluate alternative originally discarded by the majority of the members.

The group may strongly oppose expert opinion on their selections. The most dangerous consequences may be that the group is too selective, and in a word, biased in gathering available information. The group might appear so confident in its selection, that it does not properly consider consequences or contingency plans.

Irving Janis studied group think in the 70’s. He concluded that there were symptoms that showed a group has taken the wrong direction.

The group might exude overconfidence in the group’s powers. They might seem like they have tunnel vision used to view the decision at hand. They may show signs of strong conformity pressure within the group.

They may almost seem arrogant and invulnerable with the decision. There may be signs of direct pressure on any dissenters. There is pressure to protect group from negative views or information.

Group Decision Making Tools

It is critical that we record our decisions – not just at the end, but also throughout the process. This will minimize the risk that we will rehash old decisions. It also aids buy-in, and enables us to reuse decision thinking on other situations.

At the beginning of the decision making process, the group should agree on a common process, such as Consensus Decision Making , identify a common goal, and follow an agreed upon decision making methodology.

Community groups often have a problem coming to a decision about direction. Quite often, resources, both human and financial, are limited; the number of problems seem overwhelming; or there are forceful advocates of a “pet” project. How can a group overcome these difficulties?

They can use techniques such as brainstorm, brain dump or brain drain to generate ideas. Once alternatives have been identified, they can use paired weighting, or a nominal group process to prioritize their next courses of action. The Card Technique is one method that can be used to document the data or results from such sessions and to allow the group to organize their thoughts and information.

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