Mike MacDonagh's Blog

Somewhere in the overlap between software development, process improvement and psychology

A model for making group decisions

I’ve been working with some interesting group structures recently which got me thinking about decision making dynamics. I’ve been using a decision making framework for a while and intend to apply it to some different shaped groups so thought I’d share it.

There are a number of irrational ways of making decisions such as divination, looking at guts or rolling a dice but generally in business we like to make logical rational decisions. However often we don’t really think about how we make decisions, or more importantly how we should make decisions.

The techniques described in this blog are applicable to any situation where a group needs to make a decision, however the language is focussed on business groups/teams.

This blog is in two parts, the first is pretty simple and obvious and covers basic decision making, but it’ll lead on to the more interesting second part about different ways of reaching agreement and when to use each method.

How decisions are made

Rational decisions are made via a fairly simple process, at least in my mind:

Rational Decision Making

1. Objective: We start with an objective or goal, it needs to be clearly understood and have an owner/leader2. Alternative options: we create some alternate solutions.

Idea generation is an interesting topic by itself and lots has been written, but that’s not the topic of this blog.

3. Tentative Solution: We analyse the alternates against some criteria and then choose one to be our tentative solution

Again lots of ways to do this depending on your problem domain

4. Deeper Analysis: We perform deeper analysis on the tentative solution to try and ensure it’ll meet the objective

5. Agreement: We get the group to decide on the solution (see part 2)

6. Communication: We communicate the decision

There’s no point making a decision unless it’s communicated!

Person icon I used in the decision making diagram used as per attributable license from http://www.elegantthemes.com/

Different Types of decisions

The first thing to consider is that different types of decisions may need different types of decision making processes, specifically around gaining agreement and analysing options. This seems obvious to me, and is normally obvious to anyone I talk to about it, however when business change people are talking about creating/redefining a group to make some decisions they usually say how they’ll make decisions without differentiating between the types. Unfortunately common sense is often left out of planning.

A decision can’t be made unless it’s understood. To understand why a decision needs making someone, or the representative of some people, needs to have an objective which requires a decision by the group. Again, this seems rather obvious but if you consider it the other way around it means that a group can’t make a decision unless it know who wants the decision and why they want it. Apply that to many traditional management groups/boards,  CCBs, business change projects, process improvement groups etc. and you’ll find it doesn’t always hold. In these cases groups are being dishonest and self-serving.

I don’t mean that you can’t make a decision without the customer present (models for that follow next) but that you can’t make a good decision if you don’t know who the customer is and what their objective is. In the case of speculative development for a market this might seem impossible but that’s what market research is for. So, given that we know how decisions are made, and that we should consider different ways to achieve agreement for different types of decision how can we actually get agreement?

See part 2 for How to reach agreement in a group – autocracy vs. democracy


This blog is part of a series on Holistic Communication: The linguistics of business change. Introduction, ethics and table of contents is all in the first post.

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4 responses to “A model for making group decisions

  1. Pingback: Linguistics of business change: Holistic communication, ethics and morals « The Mac Daddy

  2. Pingback: How to reach agreement in a group – autocracy vs. democracy « The Mac Daddy

  3. Pingback: Decision making case studies « The Mac Daddy

  4. Pingback: What does a self-organising team really mean? Organisation! « Mike MacDonagh's Blog

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