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Problems with Group Decision Making

DECISION BY AUTHORITY RULE: Many groups start out with-or quickly set up a power structure that makes it clear that the chairman (or someone else in authority) will make the ultimate decision. The group can generate ideas and hold free discussion, but at any time the chairman can say that, having heard the discussion, he or she has decided upon a given plan. Whether or not this method is effective depends a great deal upon whether the chairman is a sufficiently good listener to have culled the right information on which to make the decision. Furthermore, if the group must also implement the decision, then the authority-rule method produces a bare minimum of involvement by the group (basically, they will do it because they have to, not necessarily because they want to). Hence it undermines the potential quality of the implementation of the decision.

DECISION BY MINORITY RULE: One of the most often heard complaints of group members is that they feel "railroaded" into some decision. Usually, this feeling results from 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. A common form of minority rule is for two or more members to come to a quick and powerful agreement on a course of action, then challenge the group with a quick "Does anyone object?", and, if no one raises their voice in two seconds, to proceed with "Let's go ahead, then." Again the trap is the assumption that silence means consent.

DECISION BY MAJORITY RULE (VOTING AND/OR POLLING): More familiar decision-making procedures are often taken for granted as applying to any group situation because they reflect our political system. One simple version is to poll everyone's opinion following some period of discussion. If the majority of participants feels the same way, it is often assumed 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. On the surface this method seems completely sound, but surprisingly often it turns out that decisions made by this method are not well implemented, even by the group that made the decision.

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CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates, Boston, MA., a comprehensive organization which offers over 40 skills based management training programs. Mr. Schwartz conducts over 150 programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is often found at conferences as a key note presenter and/or facilitator. His style is fast-paced, participatory, practical, and humorous. He has authored over 65 books and products, and taught/lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.

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