People generally hold meetings to come to a decision. However, group decision making is not very easy. Things like incomplete information and narrow perspectives can make your group decision making a challenge. Also, groups often make ineffective decisions because they either fail to list alternative solutions or do a poor job of evaluating and selecting solutions.

Before we discuss a few group decision making strategies, let’s make clear that a good leader is key. Make sure you know who is leading a specific project or task and has the final responsibility. There are several things the leader can do to help a group make decisions more efficiently:

  • Clarify the goal of the meeting. Create expectations with actionable agenda points.
  • When people seem totally blocked and unable to come to a decision, go back to the initial question or purpose and phrase it in other words.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a group decision making technique designed to increase the range of ideas and solutions available for the group to explore. The goals is to generate as many ideas as possible. This technique doesn’t provide a solution or decision itself. Instead, it produces a list of ideas that will later be considered, discussed, and evaluated when it is time to reach a final decision.

The ground rules of brainstorming include the following:

  • Don’t judgeWhether an idea is good or bad doesn’t matter. Judging and criticizing isn’t good for the mood and creative flow. People shouldn’t feel afraid to speak up. Empower your co-workers.
  • Assign a moderatorAlthough the entire point of a brainstorm involves a free flow of ideas, you can quickly get off track. Choose a moderator who knows the project and can drive conversations toward original thought and successful teamwork.
  • Change physical environmentSwitching environments can influence the way your brain works and what kind of ideas come to mind. Stimulate your brain by brainstorming outside or in another room.
  • Independently prepareGive everyone about ten minutes to come up with their own ideas before you discuss them together. This way you’ll make sure you won’t get stuck with common suggestions but you’ll probably have more diverse ideas to begin with.
  • Identify goalsYou don’t want to waste time endlessly writing down ideas. Clearly state the goal of the brainstorming session so that everyone stays focused. For example: “Identify ten possible ways to get more employee happiness.”
  • Set a time limitBy setting a time limit, you know that the agreed upon goals must be met by a certain time. This will encourage you to stay on track and come up with as many ideas as possible within the timeframe.
  • Avoid groupthinkGroupthink occurs when people in groups seek to eliminate conflict entirely. Positive reinforcement and agreements are great, but shouldn’t stand in the way of critical thinking, creativity, and quality.
  • Write everything downEvery idea, good or bad, should be briefly put down on paper or a whiteboard because you won’t remember everything. You don’t want to end up scratching your head because you forgot all those great ideas.
  • Work togetherDon’t get attached to your own ideas. Everyone will have good and bad ideas, but in the end it’s all about the best ideas that solve the problem. So, help develop other people’s ideas too.

“I have a lot of good experiences with brainstorming sessions, but only because a clear goal was stated before the session. Also, one person should be in charge of leading the brainstorm session to make sure everyone stays focused. Otherwise you can’t make any sense of the chaos.” Jorick Serto – Creative Strategy Manager at GAIKU

Polling

Polling can help determine how people are feeling about a certain issue without requiring anyone to commit him or herself to anything. Managers or leaders who are going to make the decision might do this by asking a question like, “If we were to decide now, how many of you would favor option one?” You can simply raise your hands, or not. It gives an idea of how people think about a certain topic and this information allows for better decision making.

Nominal Group Technique

This group decision making technique is similar to brainstorming except that it’s more structured.

The nominal group technique involves the following steps:

  • Write down ideas in private. After the problem at hand is defined and understood, members silently generate their ideas in writing without discussion with each other.
  • Share ideas. Take turns reporting your ideas to the group, one at a time, while a facilitator writes them on a flip chart or whiteboard. Again, no group discussion occurs. This listing continues until each member has no more ideas to share.
  • Discuss ideas. The next step is discussing all ideas. The purpose of this discussion is to clarify, criticize, or defend the stated ideas.
  • Vote on ideas. Each person privately and anonymously prioritizes the ideas according to a rank-ordering system.
  • Calculate the group decision. The final decision is calculated mathematically, based on the votes of the previous step.

Dialectical Inquiry

If it’s a yes/no decision, you could use this technique. It works as follows. There are two groups, one favoring yes, and one favoring no. The first group will list all the pros, and the second group will list all the cons. Then everyone will discuss their findings and reasons. This technique ensures that decision makers consider all alternatives and opposing views in decision making and it helps managers to make an informed decision. Make sure that at the end there is one person making the decision and that everyone will have to abide by that. This way you avoid tension and encourage acceptance at the end.

Conclusion

In meetings, making decisions is an everyday occurrence, and it can be a challenge when you’re dealing with different people and opinions. There are a lot of ways that will make it easier to make group decisions. We’ve discussed brainstorming, polling, nominal group technique, and dialectical inquiry. Each of them could be useful in different situations. Try them, and find out which one works best for you.