5 Effective Group Decision-Making Techniques

Catherine Daly

7 minutes

Collecting diverse opinions and perspectives to inform decision-making is essential. When decisions affect many people across an organization, group decision-making techniques can better involve, engage, and motivate people, making outcomes more likely to succeed.

This blog post explores the pros and cons of group decision-making and describes five common techniques to help leaders build successful decision-making processes.

What is Group Decision-Making?

Group decision-making—also known as collective decision-making or collaborative decision-making—occurs when a group makes a decision, not an individual.

Advantages of Group Decision-Making

When managed correctly, group decision-making—an inherently inclusive process—is one of the most successful ways to make effective decisions. It can help:
  • Generate buy-in from stakeholders by involving them from the beginning
  • Build consensus by inclusively considering the pros and cons of each option
  • Encourage workplace creativity by surfacing ideas from any individual or team, not just leadership or internal subject matter experts
  • Create more favorable business outcomes by sharing decision-making responsibilities with everyone

Disadvantages of Group Decision-Making

If managed incorrectly, group decision-making can result in poor business outcomes. A flawed group decision-making facilitation process might:
  • Trivialize or replace high-priority tasks with lower priority tasks, resulting in collective procrastination
  • Diffuse accountability throughout the entire group, thereby avoiding responsibility for poor outcomes
  • Create inefficient groups that struggle to focus on the big picture and go off on tangents
  • Contribute to “groupthink” where group members reach a consensus without critically evaluating alternative viewpoints (usually caused by a desire for conformity and/or conflict avoidance)
To ensure organizations experience all the advantages of group decision-making and avoid the pitfalls, leaders can employ several different group decision-making techniques.

5 Techniques for Effective Group Decision-Making

There are many ways to facilitate group decision-making. We’ve collated five of the most common techniques organizations use to manage the process successfully. However, every organization is different, so leaders should carefully evaluate each option and run pilot projects to assess which technique works best.

1. The RAPID Framework

Bain and Company’s RAPID Decision-Making Model can help organizations make better decisions when multiple stakeholders are involved. RAPID clarifies decision accountability.

Each letter in the word RAPID signifies a group member’s role during the decision-making process. According to Bain and Company, when roles are clearly delineated in this way, groups make the right choices swiftly and effectively.

It’s important to note that not every decision merits the level of effort and investment that goes into creating explicit RAPID roles. Nonetheless, RAPID is a useful framework for larger decisions.

The RAPID model requires practice and discipline. In an ideal world, the model should be built into the company culture and well-understood by everyone from the top down.

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Image Source: www.bain.com

2. The Nominal Group Technique

The Nominal Group Technique (NGT) relies on a moderator who records ideas produced during a group or individual brainstorming session. Group members discuss their ideas with the moderator, who compiles a list of all the ideas.

Participants or a panel of decision-makers then vote using index cards numbered one through five. The numbers correspond to the priority the idea should receive. The votes are then calculated and ideas pursued in order of the priority score they received.

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3. The Delphi Technique

The Delphi Technique is similar to NGT but instead of in-person discussion, it relies on questionnaires to gather information and insights from a group of anonymous individuals.

The questionnaires are delivered in rounds and the questions in each round are determined by the responses from the round before. Starting in the second round, participants rank the ideas presented by order of priority. The questions grow progressively more focused on a small subset of ideas on which the leaders make a decision.

4. Decision-engineering process

According to the Project Management Institute, group decision-making is most successful when organizations adopt a multi-step decision-engineering process:

Step 1: Frame the decision

Framing a decision sets the overall context. To do this effectively, leaders should critically examine the overall issue they face. A simple problem-framing technique—The Five Whys—recommends leaders keep asking the question “why?” until they get to the root cause of the problem or issue.

Step 2: Generating alternatives

Once leaders have framed the problem and understood the context, they should determine alternative solutions. The more options generated, the greater the team’s likelihood of uncovering an innovative solution. In addition, involving everyone in generating these alternatives is a great way to gain fresh perspectives on your problem.

Step 3: Decide the course of action

When enough alternatives are created, the process of group decision-making can finally begin. Decision analysis tools or techniques like RAPID, NGT, Delphi, or Discussion Management platforms root out bias and fairly evaluate the alternatives and responses.

5. Discussion Management with ThoughtExchange

With well-formulated open-ended questions, leaders can use ThoughtExchange’s innovative Discussion Management Platform to solicit feedback from their teams or facilitate group decision-making.
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The ThoughtExchange platform collects anonymous responses that participants vote on objectively, similarly to NGT and Delphi techniques. Employees can present suggestions and solutions throughout the decision-making process and vote on their favorites without anyone knowing which answer comes from which team member.

With this technology-powered approach, the focus remains firmly on the validity and quality of the ideas and insights—not on the person who presented them. In this way, leaders make decisions solely based on their content and value, without any unconscious bias and no time wasted on office politics or fruitless debates.

Improving the Group Decision-Making Process

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Now that we’ve covered some of the best group decision-making techniques, here are some best practices to help you improve your processes:

1. Involve all employees

Leaders who figure out an effective group decision-making process can tap into the power of the collective while engaging employees, making them feel valued and less likely to check out or leave the company.

Employee involvement in the decision-making process shows those across the organization that their opinion is valued and trusted. It helps workers feel less like cogs in a machine and more like experts and consultants in their respective areas of expertise. Employees can clearly see that they can make a difference, contribute to the organization, and are empowered to do so on a more regular basis.

2. Keep it anonymous

Some employee engagement or survey tools promote data confidentiality and results—this should not be confused with an anonymous process where data cannot be diluted down to department or team level or include identifiers such as length of service or gender. If employees feel that their responses can identify them, they are more likely to withhold their true opinions due to fear of retribution.

3. Beware non-proven techniques

Some methods of conducting group decision-making create barriers to effective, efficient, and objective decisions. For example, survey tools with predetermined responses limit the scope of options to consider and select; in-person roundtables are prone to bias and groupthink; and email chains or shared documents create messy, difficult to analyze data.

4. Share collective responsibility for the outcome

All members should feel accountable for the decision and its outcome. To ensure this, ask the team to sign a responsibility statement at the outset, agreeing to accept the collective decision. This can balance the power in the group and create a more open idea exchange.

Interested in learning more about how ThoughtExchange can facilitate effective group decision-making? Download this white paper on Enterprise Discussion Management and see how organizations like McDonalds, RBC, Oracle NetSuite, and GE Healthcare are using it to inform better decisions every day.

About the Author

Catherine Daly

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Catherine is a professional writer based in Vancouver, B.C. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism (for passion), a master’s degree in marketing (to pay the bills), and has over 15 years of experience working with big tech brands like Adobe, Hootsuite, HP, Oracle, PayPal, and ThoughtExchange.