The continuum of leadership behavior provides one context for understanding the best time and place for individual decisions versus group decisions. That continuum, as illustrated below, ranges from the completely subordinate-centered approach to the completely leader-centered approach. In between these extremes are another four types that blend or offset the “center” perspective.
Both approaches can provide value, while specific advantages depend on some of the factors discussed below. Frequently, advantages of group decision making include:
- Improved quality of decisions, proven over and over because of contributing factors such as . . .
- Ability to generate more ideas and options
- Self-monitoring that forces participants to keep each other honest
- Fewer errors in using information that is available
- Availability of more information
- Reduction of potential individual bias
- Willingness to manage higher levels of risk
- Increases ownership through higher levels of understanding, acceptance, and likelihood to make necessary adaptations during implementation.
- Participating individuals are strengthened, learn more, and can more readily re-apply the same rationale when they are making subsequent individual decisions.
Downside of Group Decision-making
There are some downside considerations as well including:
- Potential to take more time
- May create or heighten expectations, perhaps making them unobtainable
- Could be at variance with management or senior staff
- Quality of the output or decision might be hampered if the group is dominated by an individual(s), submits to forced selection or voting (leading to “losers” and consequent abandonment of ownership), or congeals into what Janis (1972) describes as “Groupthink.”
Groupthink describes a state or condition when the group regresses into poor thinking and social pressures. Janis claims that three factors increase the likelihood of groupthink, namely: insulation from qualified outsiders, leaders who promote their favorite position, and strong cohesion. You may be witnessing groupthink if you observe some of the following symptoms:
- Excessive optimism and illusion of invulnerability
- Tendency to dismiss contrary points of view accompanied with collective efforts to rationalize their own position or discount the positions of others
- Unquestioned beliefs in the group’s supposed moral superiority and ignoring the consequences of their decision(s)
- Prejudicial comments and stereotyping outsiders not in the meeting
- Audible and non-verbal pressure on participants to conform
- Censorship of deviations from what has congealed to be ‘consensus’
Research shows, however, that decision by consensus tends to result in higher quality decisions than command-control, manipulation, persuasion, voting and other means of compromise.
What is Consensus?
Consensus must be carefully defined. A robust method will make full use of all the resources in the group, can be relied on for acceptable ways to reconcile conflict, and will generate the ownership a group needs to ensure that what goes on in the meeting is carried out after the meeting has concluded. We highly recommend that ‘consensus’ DOES NOT mean we are making everyone happy. Rather, we are striving for a common acceptance and level of understanding that would include ‘yes’ answers by all participants to the following questions:
- Can you live with this (decision/ plan/ output/ outcome, etc.)?
- Will you support it professionally and not subvert it when the meeting concludes?
- Will you personally lose any sleep over it?
Resulting in Synergy
We could define synergy as the increased effectiveness of working together where the outcome becomes greater than the sum of the parts. We are seeking an answer that did not walk into the meeting, rather it can be created during the meeting. For a meeting with nine people, for example, we are looking for the tenth answer. Synergy frequently results among groups that are seeking consensus, built around a common goal. When supported by strong facilitation, participants agree on a clear and common goal (typically the meeting deliverable), share openly, listen carefully, think clearly, and they are likely to achieve synergy.
Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.
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