Group Decision Making

Making decisions as a group is a key part of execution in a business. Group decision making is tricky because it implies group reasoning, which can be powerful but fraught with bias. There are clear patterns in group decision making and how a decision is reached. When making a group decision the responsibility must be collective1.

Aligning on a decision or resolving a methodological dispute

The “Goal-Problem-Solutions” framework is used to build alignment in a group. It’s particularly useful when there is a dispute on how to solve a problem. You focus first on what the goal is. When there is alignment on the goal you move to the problem(s). When the parties agree on the problems, then you can discuss solutions. This method is useful for clarifying the discussion around solutions which is typically where people start and have the most investment (“My idea is the best”). The method is sequential, and you should not jump to problems or solutions before solving the prior step(s). When smart people cannot agree on a solution its usually because they are not agreed on the goal or problem being solved2.

Rules of thumb for group decision making

When an important decision is needed, aim for a 3-5 people, with a heterogenous make up1. When work is rote and structured, a homogenous group will out perform a heterogenous one1. Appoint a strategic dissenter to play devils advocate1. Collect opinions individually and anonymously and then aggregate to avoid biases1. Experts can distort the group’s decision, make sure their opinion is framed on a particular topic and positioned correctly for the group to avoid this1.

Costs per reasonable decision

One observation about decision making in organization is the hidden cost of making reasonable and small decision. For example. if the culture of the organization requires a meeting to decide an option that is interchangeable and small (say requires 1 hour of work), but the meeting involves an hour of decision making between 4 individuals, you’ve added 4 four workers to 1 hour of “real” work.

In order to avoid this problem, decisions should be small, safe-to-fail and made autonomously. High-level strategic decisions will set course for the org for months/years3.


References

1.
Emmerling, T. & Rooders, D. 7 Strategies for Better Group Decision-Making. Harvard business review (2020).
2.
SaaSy, S. Goals, Problems, Solutions. Stay saasy Blog at https://staysaasy.com/management/2021/07/24/goals-problems-solutions.html (2021).
3.
Cutler, J. Cost Per Reasonable Decision (CPRD). @johncutlefish’s blog Blog at https://cutle.fish/blog/cost-per-reasonable-decision-cprd (2018).

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