Managers need structure for group decisions

Decisions, decisions. Should you buy a new piece of equipment or repair the one you own? Which procedure should your work team implement to solve their problem? Which job candidate should you hire?

As a manager, you regularly are expected to make quick, sensible decisions. This is difficult enough when you are making the decision yourself, but when your work group gets involved, it can really bog you down.


Without a structured decision-making process, groups (and individuals) tend to weigh the pros and cons of alternatives in a disorganized way. Good ideas can be lost, the objective can become blurred and the decision is often a poor compromise that satisfies no one.


How can you include the group in decisions that will affect them, keep them focused on one alternative at a time and find a good solution? The following technique is useful not only in a group but for individual decision-making as well.


Start by having your group brainstorm ideas for solutions. It's important that these ideas be recorded where all members of the group can see them. (Flip charts on an easel are perfect for this because each page can be taped on the wall as it is filled.) One person's idea may spark an idea from someone else and no ideas will be ignored or forgotten.


Review the rules
Before the brainstorming with your group, review the rules: (1) No judging of ideas; (2) no discussion of ideas; (3) anything goes -- logical crazy ideas are OK; (4) write ideas quickly.


These rules are important. The idea behind brainstorming is to generate as many creative ideas as possible without letting premature evaluation interrupt the flow.


Research reveals that the best solution ideas come from groups that generate long brainstorming lists and allow themselves to come up with wild ideas. It's easier to tame a wild idea than to beef up a flat one.


The second step is to state the criteria for a good solution. This step will keep your group focused on its goal: choosing a good solution. For instance, you may decide that the solution can't cost more than $1,000, can't take more than two weeks to implement and can't interrupt the work flow of other divisions.


As the group lists (on the chart) the criteria that must be satisfied to arrive at a decision, it is also carefully defining the problem at the same time.


The third step is to examine each alternative and estimate how well it fulfills each criterion.


Numerical rating
If the decision deserves fairly elaborate attention, or if comparing numerous alternatives could be confusing, use a numerical rating system. The following two examples differ only in the way the numbers are used to reach a decision.


First, the rating system. List the criteria down the left-hand side of the chart. Across the top, write the alternatives. For example, if you were choosing the best administrative assistant for a specific position, the criteria might be: minimum of two years' experience, college degree, good writing skills, etc. The alternatives might be candidates Janet, Mark, Laura, across the top of the chart.


To decide how well each candidate stands up to each criterion, your group could rate each on a scale of one to 10 (10 being high). If the ratings on one candidate vary widely within the group, take care to discuss the difference.


If the group has insufficient information to accurately evaluate one of the candidates, you may need to end the meeting and go back for more information. This process will keep everyone focused on the objective facts.


When the fact-finding and rating are finished, add the columns to find the alternative with the highest score.


Rank order approach
The rank order approach is slightly different. For this system, take one criterion at a time -- like "minimum of two years' experience" -- and rank order each candidate.


For example, if Laura has the most years of experience (four years) she might be given a "1", Mark has three years, "2," and Janet only six months, "3." At the end, your choice will be the candidate with the lowest score in all criteria.


You may also wish to adjust these numerical systems to suit your needs. For instance, of some criteria are more important than others, your group may decide to assign each one a different weight.


The reason for using a numerical ranking system when choosing among solution ideas is to create a lot of healthy discussion in a group. Because the group must agree on numbers, people will share their perceptions with one another and attempt to persuade others to assign the same ranking as they did.


As the group attempts to reach a common number in each category, many opinions, facts and misperceptions will emerge. But the end result will be a decision that everyone understands and is ready to implement.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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