Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 48;   December 1, 2004:

Decisions, Decisions: II

by

Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions?

Here's Part II of a catalog of group decision processes. Check out "Decisions, Decisions: I," Point Lookout for November 17, 2004, for more.

Time-boxed consensus
gives the group
a low-risk opportunity
to practice consensus
Time-boxed Consensus
The group reaches a consensus before a specified deadline. If it fails, another pattern (usually Authority) kicks in.
This approach can mitigate both the efficiency risk of Consensus, and the alienation risk of Authority. It can be especially helpful in a polarized environment, where it gives the group a low-risk opportunity to practice consensus.
Majority Vote
A voteA conventional aye/nay vote. If the number of ayes exceeds a preset threshold, the proposal is accepted. If the threshold is more than half, this method is called a supermajority vote.
This procedure allows more dissenters than consensus, which speeds decisions, even in a polarized environment. But that strength is also a weakness — it can foster the development of factions, and if a proposal is adopted, the minority often feels alienated. Decisions by thin majorities in a polarized environment can exacerbate polarization.
Veto
In every method except Authority, the authority's vote is just one among equals. The Veto enables the authority to negate a group decision, which mitigates the risk of groupthink.
This procedure is rarely used in business, and even more rarely is it declared openly. The risk of alienation is extraordinary.
A somewhat safer approach is a technical veto, which overrides the group's decision on the basis of legal, ethical or regulatory grounds. Even a technical veto can risk alienation, but at least the authority is less directly involved.
Expert Subgroup
The decision is delegated to an expert subgroup, which then uses any of the other patterns to reach a decision, and the larger group is then bound to adopt the result. If the subgroup's decision isn't binding, then no delegation has actually occurred — instead, it's just a committee study.
Expert Subgroup delegation addresses the risk of slower, more cumbersome processes such as the various forms of Consensus, but it introduces some risk that flaws and alternatives won't be fully illuminated or considered. It can work in a polarized environment, provided all major factions are represented. Even if they are, if one faction is small, this method increases the probability of blockage by a lone dissenter, because the body is smaller, and it subjects that dissenter to much greater pressure. This threatens the credibility of the result, because the expert subgroup can be seen as an isolation tactic.

A common source of trouble with any of these methods is confusing the content decision with the process decision. Be clear about the difference: deciding whether to decide, by when to decide, how to decide, who will decide, or what pattern will be used are process decisions. Blurring the content decision with any of the various required process decisions can introduce tension and conflict — and keep you from deciding anything at all. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: A Guide for the Humor-Impaired  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Pulling at each otherWhen You Think They've Made Up Their Minds
In tough negotiations, when attempts to resolve differences have failed, we sometimes conclude that "they've made up their minds," but other explanations abound. Keeping an open mind about why other people seem to have closed theirs can help us find a resolution.
US President John Kennedy set a goal of a trip to the moonAchieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action
Achieving your goals requires both passion and action. Knowing when to emphasize passion and when to emphasize action are the keys to managing yourself, or others, toward achievement.
Three adult male chimpanzees during a grooming sessionFavors, Payback, and Thoughtlessness
Someone at work who isn't particularly a friend or foe has asked you for a favor. What happens if you say no? Do you grant the favor? How do you decide what to do?
A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaDecisions: How Looping Back Helps
Group decision-making often proceeds through a series of steps including forming a list of options, researching them, ranking them, reducing them, and finally selecting one. Often, this linear approach yields disappointing results. Why?
An egg sandwichThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
Two people engaged in pair collaborationAnd on April 28: The Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.