Decision Deadfalls (part 2 of 3)

By Tom Davidson

While group decision-making can be the best way to solve problems in some cases, successful managers need to know when to use it and how to manage the process well. 

Deadfalls are animal traps used outdoors to snare or kill prey in survival situations, while decision deadfalls are traps that unsuspecting managers can fall into. Both kinds can have devastating impacts on their victims. 

Here are three of the deadly decision deadfalls that await all managers but especially those who are inexperienced, unaware, naïve or rushed: 

– Good Decisions – Just because a decision gets bad results, doesn’t mean it was a bad decision.

– Group Decisions – It’s a common error to assume that group decisions are most likely to be good decisions.

– Snap Decisions – Because of the sheer number of decisions you’ll have to make as a manager, you’ll sometimes have to make snap decisions you’ll live to regret.

Today’s blog post is about “group decisions,” while the other two are discussed in the previous and next blog postings. 

Group Decisions 
As the saying goes, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee,” which points to the nature and difficulty of making group decisions. The theory behind bringing people together to make recommendations and decisions is sound, but the practice is often misunderstood or mishandled. 

Pros of Group Decision-Making 
When managed well, group decision-making has the following benefits: 

– Diverse experiences and broader sets of knowledge are brought together efficiently so that decision quality is improved.

– Multiple perspectives are shared openly so that data and assumptions can be investigated, checked and appropriately considered.

– Complimentary problem-solving and communication skills are balanced, thus preventing the otherwise lopsided nature of single-person decision-making.

– Time is saved, because the most relevant resources are mobilized in one place with a single focus.

Cons of Group Decision-Making 
When managed badly, group decision-making has the following liabilities: 

– Groups have difficulty managing disagreement, which erodes the likelihood that diverse perspectives and skills will be well used.

– Teams fall into a “group think” mentality where getting along is put ahead of getting the organization ahead.

– People misunderstand the objective or use the opportunity to get what they want rather than what is best for the organization.

– Time is wasted, and the opportunity cost of taking people off other tasks is not made up for by the return on investment in the group decision-making process.

While group decision-making can be the best way to solve problems in some cases, successful managers need to know when to use it and how to manage the process well. In general, you should use group decision-making when (a) problems are complex, (b) you have the time, and (c) you need to build ownership among a wide array of stakeholders. 

Here are three tips for managing group decision-making well: 

  1. Clarify the singular goal of the group and ensure everyone understands it the same way.
  2.  Get the right people in the room before you start (i.e., ones with the best knowledge, team skills, and communication skills).
  3.  Establish a few critical ground rules for how the process will progress. Creating such norms explicitly, rather than letting them grow on their own, helps ensure a quality process – thus a quality solution.

What other tips do you have for improving group decision-making?

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