With more and more businesses today requiring employees to work in teams or in groups, effective group decision-making techniques have become highly important. With so many employees working remotely these days, understanding how to make decisions as part of a group is even more important.
There is no denying the value of coming to a group-based decision. Group participation often leads to unique ideas that may not have been discovered otherwise. Additionally, getting input from diverse members of a team or group increases the likelihood that the decision that’s made will be one that is reflective and supportive of many different points of view.
Of course, simply deciding to make a decision as a group isn’t going to get you very far. Instead, it’s imperative that teams or groups approach the decision-making process with one or more group decision-making techniques in mind.
Deciding on a technique that will be appropriate for the issue at hand can be a bit difficult. However, the rewards to be reaped by effective group work make the effort worthwhile.
Below is an outline of five group decision-making methods that are worth considering.
Conducting a brainstorming session is a great decision-making technique that does not place any undue stress on group participants.
During a brainstorming session, the leader of the group will present a particular problem, after which group members state their opinions freely. After all ideas have been presented, the group will then discuss each idea and choose the one that suits their purpose best.
In brainstorming, any and all ideas are encouraged, even those that may seem outlandish. By accepting any and all ideas, it can take pressure off of group members to come up with the “right” answer.
Furthermore, brainstorming sessions can lead to incredible creativity. Since it’s a no-holds-barred process, group members are free to think well outside the box, and, as mentioned a moment ago, come up with ideas that might be outlandish.
Another benefit of brainstorming is that the group can generate an incredible number of ideas in a short period of time. Again, not all of the ideas will be plausible, but with every member of the group free to voice as many ideas as they wish, the list of possibilities can be impressive after just a short period of time.
It’s worth noting that brainstorming is highly conducive to generating a truly cohesive group. Even if a member’s idea isn’t the one that’s ultimately chosen, each person in the group will still feel as though they contributed to the decision-making process. Having this buy-in and ownership over the decision-making process is crucial for future group decisions.
Brainstorming is not without its detriments, though.
In some cases, brainstorming might turn into a disorganized mess. With little structure, the group can easily veer off task.
Additionally, some people argue that brainstorming does little to elicit plausible, creative ideas while increasing the likelihood of groupthink. In other words, the group might settle on an early idea suggestion and become fixated on it rather than continuing to share new ideas for solving the problem at hand.
However, despite a few concerns with this method, many groups find it to be an excellent way to get the group involved in the process.
The Delphi Method
Another great group decision-making technique is known as the Delphi Method. Originally developed as a way to create consensus among experts, this method is perfect for groups that cannot meet at a certain time in a particular place.
Using this technique, questionnaires are sent to each member of the group. Additional questionnaires may be sent, if necessary, depending on the results of the first round of questions.
The purpose of the questionnaires is to solicit feedback from each group member. Since this is an anonymous type of decision-making, one of the benefits is that members typically feel more comfortable offering their honest and complete opinions of the issue at hand. Additionally, the anonymity that the questionnaires provide often results in much more creative and novel ideas.
This method also encourages each member of the group to participate. By having individual questionnaires to fill out, each group member has an opportunity to voice their thoughts without worry of interruption or judgment from other members of the group.
A foreman or a small committee within the group collects responses and chooses the best solution offered. While this maintains anonymity, there are some drawbacks to this approach, namely, that the decision is ultimately made by one person or a smaller group within the group.
A second issue with the Delphi Method is that it takes a long time to complete. Not only does the questionnaire have to be developed, but it also has to be disseminated to group members. Then, each member needs time to fill out and return the questionnaire. And the whole process starts over perhaps many more times before a decision is reached. If a quick decision is needed, this is not the approach to use.
Nevertheless, if you want detailed input and high engagement of group members, this is a great technique.
Bain’s RAPID Framework
Bain’s RAPID Framework was designed by Bain and Company, a global consultancy firm, as a useful group decision-making tool.
This method works best when used to solve complicated problems. Each letter in the word RAPID defines a role that a member or committee of a group will hold during the decision-making process. These roles are as follows (in the order in which they occur, not the order in which they should appear in the word):
- R – Recommend a decision or an action that is based on rigorous research.
- A – Agree to a decision. If the group disagrees with the decision that was recommended, they have power to veto it.
- I – Input is needed for each recommendation that’s made, and that input should be based on data and evidence presented by the recommendation team.
- D – Decide on a decision and commit the organization to action. This role is usually left to a single person in order to speed up the decision-making process.
- P – Perform the decision quickly and be accountable for doing so.
As with the Delphi Method, the RAPID framework is not intended for decisions that need to be made quickly. Instead, RAPID is ideal for tackling highly complex problems.
A primary benefit of this technique is that the roles are clearly defined for each member of the team. This gets away from the possible disorganization of brainstorming and helps team members focus on their specific part of the group decision-making process.
Naturally, this is a great fit for many businesses and organizations that have team members from various levels of management or when multiple teams are working on the same project. With very clearly defined roles, the RAPID method can help large groups move forward more quickly with the decision-making process.
Another benefit of this approach is that it makes the decision-making process a careful one. There are many steps with a lot of critical evaluation of data. This means that decisions won’t be rushed into and will instead be more likely to generate positive results.
Having said that, the RAPID method doesn’t follow a rapid timeframe. As noted above, this group decision-making technique is not intended to be used for decisions that are time-sensitive. Instead, it’s more appropriate to use for large, detailed, and very important decisions.
When using a multi-voting decision-making method, the group will first need to come up with a list of options to solve a problem. For example, a group might first engage in a brainstorming session to generate an initial list that is quite long.
Next, the group combines items that are similar or duplicated to streamline the list. It is okay if the list is a bit lengthy, but it is best to keep it as short as possible. After a list has been established, each member is allowed to vote multiple times depending on the number of items in the list.
For voting, the one-third rule is popular. This works by simply dividing the total number of options on the list by three. For example, for a list of 21 items, each group member would be allowed seven votes. From there, group members work individually to determine which seven items on the list are most critical. Each choice they make is then ranked.
After each group member makes their individual choices, the votes are tallied and recorded. The option that has the most tally marks is the decision that the group will make. If there is a tie or if there is no option that is a clear majority winner, the group can discuss each option, being careful not to do so in a way that pressures anyone in the group to change their vote.
This technique has the obvious benefit of being anonymous, which, as mentioned earlier, might encourage members to voice their honest opinions. Additionally, using this method gets everyone in the group deeply involved in the decision-making process – each member votes, each member takes part in tallying the votes, and each member has the opportunity to discuss the options on which the voting is taking place.
The obvious detriment to this technique is the time it might take to complete. If the tallied votes are clear on the first try, it can be a fairly streamlined process. But if additional rounds of voting or discussion are needed, the timeframe to complete this type of group decision-making could be significantly extended.
The Nominal Group Technique
The nominal group decision-making technique provides members with the opportunity to remain anonymous while stating their opinions.
The first ten to fifteen minutes of a nominal group meeting is spent allowing members to write their opinions down on a sheet of paper. The opinions are then collected and discussed individually. In some cases, group members might be asked to select their best idea and move it forward for discussion amongst the whole group.
After discussing an idea, each member of the group ranks them on a preset scale such as one to five with five being highest. After all ideas are ranked, totals for each idea are calculated. The idea with the highest total is chosen as the best solution.
This technique blends many of the best features of other group decision-making processes. On the one hand, each group member can develop their own list of ideas. On the other hand, the group comes together to discuss the very best ideas in order to come to a consensus as the optimal decision to make.
This approach to decision-making is also ideal for situations in which some members of a group are more vocal while others do better in quietly contemplating the best path forward. It’s also a good method to use when a group is newly formed and members are still trying to determine their place within the group.
Like other approaches on this list, though, the Nominal Group Technique can take up quite a lot of time. Between individual brainstorming, group discussion, ranking, and voting exercises, plus a significant amount of preparation time that’s needed, this method isn’t well-suited for making decisions on the fly.
Another potential detriment of this group problem-solving approach is that while it can generate many different ideas, those ideas are focused on only one problem at a time. That means that this approach has a degree of inflexibility that might make it a less-than-perfect approach for some group decision-making processes.
Group Decision-Making Has Its Advantages
As discussed earlier, one of the benefits of undertaking group decision-making is that multiple perspectives can be considered. This can lead to decisions that are more comprehensive, more creative, and better meet the needs of the group, business, or organization. So, when decisions will likely affect a large number of people, the best way to come up with a solution is through the use of group decision-making.
There are many other group decision-making techniques available today that are not discussed above, so it’s important to consider these popular options as well as other group decision-making processes.
Regardless of the techniques that are used, though, the success of the group decision-making process will always come down to the commitment and hard work of the members of the group.
B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming
M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming
B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts
Updated January 2022