6 Methods for Team Decision Making

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6 Group Decision Making Methods

It's good to be aware of different decision-making methods groups or teams can use, and choose an appropriate method for the kind of task or decision being worked on. If we are not intentional about chosing a method, we may fall into a default method that might be less helpful for our team or task. So, take a look at these 6 methods for decision making and then discuss with your team so the best method can be employed for your work. 

1. Decision by Lack of Response (Plop)

This method is evident “when someone suggests an idea, and, before anyone has said anything about it, someone else suggests another idea, until the group finds one it will act on. All the ideas that have, in a real sense, been decided on by the group. But the decision has been simply a common decision not to support them, making the proposers feel that their suggestions have ‘plopped’.” How many meetings feel like we are just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Perhaps this method is best left for brainstorming and not decision making. 

2. Decisions by Formal Authority or Self-Authorization (Rubber Stamp)

“Many groups set up a power structure or start with a power structure that makes clear the fact that the chairman or someone in authority will make the decisions. The group can generate ideas and hold free discussion, but at any time the chairman can say, that, having heard the discussion, he has decided to do thus and so. This method is highly efficient. However, whether it is effective or not depends.” It depends on the authority’s ability to listen accurately and the group’s buy-in and willingness to carry it out. This style is not appropriate for shared leadership models." The rubber stamp model is not a great use of team time, energy and talent. Be careful with this model or you will drive good people away from the team. 

3. Decision By Minority (Railroad)

“One of the most common complaints of group members is that they feel railroaded in reference to some decision. Usually this feeling results in one, two, or three people employing tactics that produce action and therefore must be considered decisions, but which are taken without the consent of the majority.” Watch out for the trap that “silence means consent.” Have you ever left a meeting, wondering how in the world that decision was made and feeling like you don't know? That's not a good use of the team. It can feel devious and create schisms in the team. 

4. Decision By Majority Rule: Voting and/or Polling (Workhorse)

This form reflects our political system. “One simple version is to poll everyone’s opinion following some period of discussion, and if a majority feels the same way to assume that that is the decision. The other method is the more formal one of stating a clear alternative and asking for votes in favor of it, votes against it, and abstentions.” This follows parliamentary procedure in form.

On the surface this method seems completely sound, but surprisingly often decisions made by this method are not well implemented even by the group that made the decision. There can be two barriers with this model: (1) minority members may feel there was not enough discussion to relate views, and perhaps feels misunderstood; (2) voting can create two camps or coalitions out of the group. “If voting is to be used, the group must be sure that it has created a climate in which embers feel they have had their day in court and where members feel obligated to along with the majority decision.” This method works group for really large groups of people, but may not be as effective for teams or groups that really want to have good process that reflects good dialogue, respect of pesons and perspectives and decision making that gets the team to the best possible decision. This method is a good workhorse and is dependable but not ideal. 

5. Decision By Consensus (Gold Standard)

“One of the most effective but also most time-consuming methods of group decision making is to seek consensus. Consensus… is not the same as unanimity. Rather, it is a state of affairs where communications have sufficiently open, and the group climate has been sufficiently supportive, to make everyone in the group feel that he has had his fair chance to influence the decision. Members are then allowed to feel differently but secede to the group to create unity. The important thing is that the group knows what decisions should require voting, and which can be done with consensus." This method takes time, patience and a strong sense of purpose so the team can focus on the decision and what's at stake. This is the gold standard of team process. 

6. Decision by Unanimous Consent (Unicorn)

“The logically perfect but least attainable kind of decision is where everyone truly agrees on the course of action to be taken. The important thing is to take some time to agree on which method to use for what kinds of tasks and in what kinds of situations." This is the unicorn of group decision making methods. Creating the space, environment and time for unanimous consent is the ideal, but rarest method for groups. Try it when you can, perhaps the process can build your team, create alignment and unity like no other process. 

Paying attention to decision making in your groups or teams is one step towards effectiveness and a healthy culture of leadership. Which method does your team use?

*Adapted from: Edgar H. Schein, Process Consultation: It’s Role in Organization Development

Kristin Wiersma | Consultant Team Lead | email


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