6 Types of Group Decisions

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Our weekly feature, The Tipster, brings you easy-to-digest tips on topics that matter to your innovative work.

This Week: What are some different ways of decision-making in groups?

Decision-making is one of the toughest parts of any innovation process, especially when working on complex challenges in a group context.

A leader can substantially ease this process by specifying the decision-making process that he or she is planning to use. To do this, that leader announces at the beginning of the discussion how the decision will be reached, as well as how much and what kind of participation is expected from the rest of the group.

Below are six different kinds of group decision-making processes and the pros and cons for each.

1. Unanimous

Unanimous decisions occur when all agree without reservation. They are easier for trivial matters, but very difficult for important and/or higher-pressure situations. Be careful not to confuse unanimity with consensus.

2. Consensus

In a consensus, each person agrees to support the decision, though all may not agree, and gives his or her consent. Despite differing perspectives, all agree that they can live with the decision. Consensus is the process most likely to ensure that each person’s input is valued, heard and considered.

3. Majority Rule

Majority rule decisions are made when more than half the group votes in favor. This process is used frequently in democracies, and rarely in organizations. Majority decisions, as with any voting situation, risk that you won’t have full support and that those not in agreement with the majority may do something less than helpful later. It also carries the possibility of establishing an “us” versus “them” mentality.

4. Expert

In this scenario, the group delegates the decision-making responsibility to an expert or small subgroup. This type of process is good for situations that do not require the entire group’s participation.

5. Executive

In an executive decision, the leader makes the call. Most decisions are executive, and should be. The big mistake is that often the kind and amount of participation leading up to this kind of decision-making isn’t what it should be. The best decision-making is typically a highly participative executive decision. This approach is critical when dealing with issues such as team vision and mission.

6. Default

In this scenario, a decision is made by action, or more likely, inaction that forces a conclusion. It is a powerless form of decision-making and is best avoided.

What are some helpful mechanisms for successful decision-making?

Use Polling: Polling can help determine where people are feeling about an issue without requiring anyone to commit him or herself to anything. Leaders might do this by asking a question like, “If we were to decide now, how many of you would favor doing Option 1?”

Assign accountability: Once a decision is made, by whatever mechanism, it is important that everyone know what is expected of them, and how they are going to be held responsible (by understanding actions required, due dates, and budgets). Leaders must also assign authority to each individual to act within their respective area of responsibility, or everything will be delegated upward for decision.

Articulate a clear process to manage conflict escalation: Murphy’s law says that if something can go wrong, it will, so it is important to have an conflict escalation management procedure in place for two reasons. First, it is a mechanism for resolving disputes between peers. Second, if things go wrong, it is a means of keeping senior management informed. Escalation procedures can be built on a case-by-case basis.

Share your experiences

What have your experiences been with group decision-making at your organization? Have you or your team found success—or failure—in using any specific mechanisms or strategies when making group decisions? Share in the comments below.

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