The goal in group decision making is to ensure that the group makes the best decision
they can; based on all the information they have; as quickly as possible; with the
right level of participation and commitment. However, often this goal is not achieved.
Many decisions made in groups are neither thoughtful nor inclusive.
Group decision making takes time and is not appropriate for every decision. Including
people in decision making will strengthen their understanding of the rationale for
the decision, build commitment and produce better quality decisions.
One word of caution - if you have a complex or critical decision to make across a
large or challenging group, use the services of a professional facilitator. Group
dynamics can be challenging, and the following points are designed to help you work
with a group more effectively, not train you in professional facilitation. (If need
to make complex or critical decisions with large groups or there are diverse opinions
and challenging dynamics bring in a professional facilitator to manage the process
and support the leadership role.)
1. Establish clarity on the decision making model being used. The leader must decide
whether this decision requires complete consensus across the group, majority rule,
or just feedback from the group. No one decision making model is optimum for every
decision or group. Whatever model is selected needs to be explicit, so that all
team members understand what is expected of them.
2. Lead the group. As the leader your behavior and values will drive the culture
and actions of the group. You need to ensure that you model the behavior you want
to create and that clear ground rules are established and adhered to. Some typical
ground rules are - we will start and end our meetings on time, we will leave our
personal agendas outside this meeting, we will be open to new thinking, we will
communicate respectfully, we will keep our commitments.
3. Follow the group. One of the challenges of leadership is to maintain the right
balance between leading and following the group; between command and control and
abdication of responsibility. Getting the leading/following balance right requires
practice and awareness. During team meetings share your leadership role with the
group by regularly taking a back seat - allowing you to focus on understanding group
dynamics, listening to the group, and letting the group lead you. This approach builds
empowerment, but you also need to balance this with a more directive leadership style
when it is required.
4. Manage the process and the content. Groups move slowly, and individuals within
groups move at different paces - some faster - others slower. As the leader you
need to help keep the group on track from the perspective of process as well as content.
5. Believe in the capabilities your team. Be enthusiastic and supportive throughout
the process. It is likely that at times the group will get stuck because nothing
seems perfect/acceptable, or the group cannot reach agreement. This "groan zone"
is a normal part of the process and just acknowledging its existence, will help the
group persevere, move forward and converge in their thinking.
6. Manage participation. Don't let one or two people dominate the discussions. If
you want consensus and understanding across the team, you need to ensure that everyone
's opinion is solicited and listened to. One way to achieve this is to set an expectation
that everyone manage their own "airtime". In addition make sure that you bring in
others who have not contributed and encourage full participation.
7. Review Pros and Cons. Once all the potential solutions have been identified, discuss
the pros and cons of each solution with the group. This will build understanding
and expand peoples thinking around each alternative solution or approach.
8. Define the decision making criteria. If the group gets stuck, take some time
to identify the criteria by which the ideal solution will be selected. This discussion
will reveal how people are evaluating potential solutions and bring structure to
9. Make a decision. No decision is ever going to be without its down side, so eventually
a decision needs to be made. Make certain that you always end your discussion with
an agreed upon outcome. If necessary you need to "agree to disagree" and commit
to a specific action.
10. Review and agree to a communication plan. Make sure that everyone leaves the
discussion with a consistent understanding of the agreed decisions and actions. The
decision needs to be clearly articulated, convincing and succinct. Any action should
be specific and have clear ownership and time frames. In addition ensure that you
agree how any decisions, that impact other people, will be communicated to them.