Making Effective Group Decisions

The People View looks at the “soft-practices” involved in communication techniques, team building, decision making, leadership and team forming.

Reaching agreement in a group can be achieved in a range of different ways from autocratic to democratic and holocratic. As part of Evidence Based Decision Making this technique is used to illuminate the choice of decision making model required for different types of decision within a group.

This technique defines a set of group decision making models on the scale of autocratic to democratic. The characteristics of the decision helps you choose an appropriate model for making that decision.

We do not recommend slavishly following this technique and constraining decision making models based on it. Instead, we use this technique in Team Forming and Decision Making workshops to help illuminate the characteristics of decisions or cultural choices being made by the group that inform the choice of decision making model.

This model is a variant of the Vroom-Jago (VR1)  contingency model in situational leadership theory first developed in 1973 and then refined in 1988 (VR2). We have extended the model and changed some of the language to refine emphasis.

Decision characteristics

This model applies to decisions involving a group that have an “owner”. The owner is the person who needs the objective decided on. The owner could be the customer, a representative, the group as a whole or a Leader. An important consideration when using this model, as discussed in Evidence Based Decision Making is knowing who the owner is and realizing that it may well be a different owner for the various decisions the group has to make.

For each type of decision that needs to be made by a group:

  1. Identify the owner
  2. Clarify the objective
  3. Identify the team/group involved

Decision making models

The following decision making models are appropriate for group decisions. Business Leaders can decide if they wish to be autocratic, consultative or democratic:

  • Autocratic 1 (A1) – The decision owner makes the decision based on the information available.
  • Autocratic 2 (A2) – The decision owner requests information from the team (not explaining the situation or why they want information) and then makes the decision.
  • Consultative 1 (C1) – The decision owner explains the situation to individual members (socializing and pre-integrating the decision) but does not convene them as a group, then makes the decision.
  • Consultative 2 (C2) – The group discusses the situation and then offers ideas and suggestions. The decision owner then takes the decision.
  • Group 2 (G2) – The whole group makes the decision with the owner acting more as a facilitator. Reaching this decision can be discussion leading to emergent consensus, planning poker style or explicit voting solutions.

There deliberately isn’t a G1 in this model due to its basis in the Vroom-Jago model. Consultative 1 & 2 are sometimes called the Picard model, because the leader listens to options before deciding to “make it so”.

Which model to use

These options range from autocratic to democratic. One of the interesting things we’ve observed is that sometimes leaders want to be democratic but don’t really need to be or are not expected to be. This can lead to a conflict in expectation of approach. A leader may wish to be inclusive and democratic but their team may just wish they’d make a decision once in a while!

The alternative also causes conflict where a group expects their opinions to be heard and taken into account but the owner ignores their voices and makes autocratic decisions. This will create distance between the owner/leader and the group/team making the team feel undervalued.

Having understood the decision characteristics and the different decision making models you can then select one by using the following decision tree to identify the most appropriate model.

Each horizontal numerical bar indicates a question for the decision owner. Answer that question as honestly as possible in terms of how relevant it is to making a good decision then move to the next part of the tree (sometimes skipping a question bar) and see which question you should answer next. Pretty quickly you’ll arrive at a circular blob with the short name of one of the options described above. There are some case studies to help explain by example.

These questions should be answers from the decision owner’s perspective:

  1. Are the stakeholders known, available and engaged?
    • Are the people who will be materially affected by the decision identified, are they available to join in the decision making and engaged in the team to assist in making a decision?
  2. Is a high quality decision/solution important?
    • Is this a case where lots of alternate options can be used and it doesn’t really matter which is selected? If so, then answer “no”.
  3. As the owner do you have enough information available to make a good decision?
    • If the owner is unsure or wants to involve other opinions, then answer “no”. This is often the critical decision point which branches between directive decision making and more consensus based models because the decision owner doesn’t want to make a directive decision.
  4. Is the problem well understood and does it have well known standard solutions that apply in this context?
    • Is it a standard problem with a standard (or set of standard) solutions that will work in the current context then answer “yes”
  5. Do the members of the team or group have to accept this decision for it to work?
    • Does the decision owner have authority over the group? If not, or dissent is likely, then the group needs to accept the decision, it can’t work without them so answer “yes”.
  6. If you (the owner) make the decision yourself will the group accept it?
    • Answer this honestly, being in an organizational structure that means the group should accept it isn’t good enough. This question is about the real, honest dynamic between the owner and the group.
  7. Are the group members aligned with the same motives and goals as you the decision owner?
    • If the other members of the group have a different mission, agenda or motives then answer “no”
  8. Is disagreement likely among group members in reaching a decision?

If the selected model feels wrong

After following this decision tree and answering the questions a group will usually lead rapidly to an understanding of the cultural choices that they or the decision owner is making that are shaping the choice of decision making model. Sometimes this will bring out misunderstandings or inaccurate expectations between different members which is extremely valuable as conflict resolution at this abstract unemotional point is much easier than conflict resolution in a real world situation later on.

If the selection of a model feels wrong to the group, then we recommend exploring why it feels wrong and which questions in the tree caused the selection to “go wrong”. In this way illumination of the factors that led to a choice help inform making a better choice.

The important part of this process is that groups and stakeholders consider the types of decisions they need to make and how they will make different types of decision. We incorporate this understanding into a Team Charter as part of Team Forming.