Methods for Decision Making
 

What are different methods for team decision making?
Many types of decision making models can be studied and used by teams. Understanding decision making models allows teams to make intentional choices about which model might be most appropriate for the various decisions that they confront.

Individuals benefit from understanding decision models by becoming aware of how cognitive and affective biases can both positively and negatively impact how we work to influence our team on making a decision. Being aware of our biases can limit any negative impact from our biases. The models below describe how we work to affect and manipulate the team decision-making process, sometimes in productive ways and at times in detrimental ways for team decisions.

As a team, understanding decision-making models so that the team can make the best decision is valuable. The “best decision” is described as a decision that (1) would not have been thought of by an individual alone, (2) is a sound solution to the problem, (3) is a decision based upon input, as unbiased as possible, from each team member, and (4) addresses the team’s goal for the decision-making process.

Johnson and Johnson describe seven methods/processes that a team might use to make a decision.5 Each method, along with its strengths and weaknesses, is discussed below.

Method 1. Decision made by authority without group discussion
Process: The designated leader makes all decisions without consulting group members.

Strengths
Weaknesses
• Takes minimal time to make decision • No group interaction
• Commonly used in organizations (so we are familiar with method) • Team may not understand decision or be unable to implement decision
• High on assertiveness scale (see conflict paper) • Low on cooperation scale (see conflict paper)

Appropriate Times for Method 1
• Simple, routine, administrative decisions; little time available to make decision; team commitment required to implement the decision is low.

Method 2. Decision by expert
Process: Select the expert from group, let the expert consider the issues, and let the expert make decisions.

Strengths
Weaknesses
• Useful when one person on the team has the overwhelming expertise • Unclear how to determine who the expert is (team members may have different opinions)
  • No group interaction
• May become popularity issue or power issue

Appropriate Times for Method 2
• Result is highly dependent on specific expertise, clear choice for expert, team commitment required to implement decision is low.

Method 3. Decision by averaging individuals' opinions
Process: Separately ask each team member his/her opinion and average the results.

Strengths
Weaknesses
• Extreme opinions cancelled out • No group interaction, team members are not truly involved in the decision
• Error typically cancelled out • Opinions of least and most knowledgeable members may cancel
• Group members consulted • Commitment to decision may not be strong
• Useful when it is difficult to get the team together to talk • Unresolved conflict may exist or escalate
• Urgent decisions can be made • May damage future team effectiveness



Appropriate Times for Method 3
• Time available for decision is limited; team participation is required, but lengthy interaction is undesirable; team commitment required to implement the decision is low.

Method 4. Decision made by authority after group discussion
Process: The team creates ideas and has discussions, but the designated leader makes the final decision. The designated leader calls a meeting, presents the issue, listens to discussion from the team, and announces her/his decision.

Strengths
Weaknesses
• Team used more than methods 1–3
• Team is not part of decision
• Listening to the team increases the accuracy of the decision
• Team may compete for the leader’s attention
  • Team members may tell leader “what he/she wants to hear”
• Still may not have commitment from the team to the decision



Appropriate Times for Method 4
• Available time allows team interaction but not agreement; clear consensus on authority; team commitment required to implement decision is moderately low.

Method 5. Decision by minority
Process: A minority of the team, two or more members who constitute less than 50% of the team, make the team’s decision

Strengths
Weaknesses
• Method often used by executive committees • Can be railroading
• Method can be used by temporary committees • May not have full team commitment to decision
• Useful for large number of decisions and limited time • May create an air of competition among team members
• Some team perspective and discussion • Still may not have commitment from team to decision



Appropriate Times for Method 5
• Limited time prevents convening entire team; clear choice of minority group; team commitment required to implement the decision is moderately low.

Method 6. Decision by majority vote
Process: This is the most commonly used method in the United States (not synonymous with best method). Discuss the decision until 51% or more of the team members make the decision.

Strengths
Weaknesses
• Useful when there is insufficient time to make decision by consensus
• Taken for granted as the natural, or only, way for teams to make a decision
• Useful when the complete team-member commitment is unnecessary for implementing a decision • Team is viewed as the “winners and the losers”; reduces the quality of decision
  • Minority opinion not discussed and may not be valued
• May have unresolved and unaddressed conflict
• Full group interaction is not obtained


Appropriate Times for Method 6
• Time constraints require decision; group consensus supporting voting process; team commitment required to implement decision is moderately high.

Method 7. Decision by consensus
Process: Collective decision arrived at through an effective and fair communication process (all team members spoke and listened, and all were valued).

Strengths
Weaknesses
• Most effective method of team decision making • Takes more time than methods 1–6
• All team members express their thoughts and feelings • Takes psychological energy and high degree of team-member skill (can be negative if individual team members not committed to the process)
• Team members “feel understood”  
• Active listening used (see communication paper)

Appropriate Times for Method 7
• Time available allows a consensus to be reached; the team is sufficiently skilled to reach a consensus; the team commitment required to implement the decision is high.

Method 7 takes well-practiced communication skills by all team members. Review prior section on environments for decision making and other minidocuments on effective communication and conflict management.

Methods for Decision Marking—Retrospective
These seven methods/strategies for decision making all have strengths and challenges. However, repeatedly, Method 7 (Decision by consensus) has positive long-standing results regarding team decision making.

Classroom Activity Ask each team to review the seven methods for making team decisions and construct methods for how they will make small-scale and large-scale decisions.

 

References for Further Information

  1. Katzenbach, J.R., and Smith, D.K., 1992. Wisdom of Teams. Boston (Harvard Business School Press).
  2. Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., and Holubec, E.J., 1986. Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom, rev. ed. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.
  3. Kline, N. (1999). Time to think: Listening to ignite the human mind. London, England: Ward Lock Wellington House.
  4. Block, P. (2002). The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Really Matters, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  5. Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, F.P. (2000). Joining together: Group theory and group skills, 7th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  6. Scholtes, P.R., Joiner, B.L., Streibel, B.J., and Mann, D. (1996). The Team Handbook, 2d ed., Oriel, Inc.
  7. Bellamy, L., et al. (1994). Team Training Workbook [On line], Arizona State University. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.eas.asu.edu/~asufc/teaminginfo/teamwkbk.pdf>.
  8. TQM (Total Quality Management) Toolkit [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://web.mit.edu/tqm/>.
  9. Brainstorming, Mindtools [Online]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_04.htm>.
  10. Brainstorming.co.uk. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.brainstorming.co.uk/>.
  11. IS/TQM: Affinity Diagrams (sometimes referred to as a "KJ," after the initials of the person who created this technique, Jiro Kawakita) [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://web.mit.edu/tqm/affinity.html>.
  12. Best Practices, Prioritizing as a Group, Office of Quality Improvement & Office of Human Resource Development [On line], University of Wisconsin Madison. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.ohrd.wisc.edu/meetings/prioritize.htm#voting>.
  13. Best Practices, Prioritizing as a Group, Office of Quality Improvement & Office of Human Resource Development [On line], University of Wisconsin Madison. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.ohrd.wisc.edu/meetings/prioritize.htm#criteria>.
  14. Shulyak, L., Introduction to TRIZ [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.triz.org/downloads/40Ptriz.pdf>.
  15. GOAL/QPC, Seven Creativity Tools [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.goalqpc.com/whatweteach/Research/7cr.html>.
  16. GOAL/QPC, Seven Management and Planning Tools [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.goalqpc.com/whatweteach/Research/7mp.html> (also found in Brassard, M., and Ritter, D. [1994]. The Memory Jogger™ II: A Pocket Guide of Tools for Continuous Improvement and Effective Planning, Salem, MA: Goal/QPC).
  17. GOAL/QPC, Seven Quality Control Tools [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.goalqpc.com/whatweteach/Research/7qc.html>.
  18. Algert, N.E. (2000). The Center for Change and Conflict Resolution. (979)775–5335, cccr@bigfoot.com.