It can be difficult making decisions on your own. But making decisions as a group? That can be a nightmare.
We’ve all experienced a discussion in which a few people dominate conversation, offer their course of action and, for better or worse, the rest of the group just goes along with whatever is proposed. In fact, all too often the desire for consensus on a plan of action can impede productive discussion. It is a phenomenon called groupthink and, not only does it lead to agonizing team meetings, but it can be severely counterproductive when trying to make a sound business decision. A very common problem for any organization or business, groupthink is a difficult pattern to break.
Here are several techniques that you can use to keep your team out of the groupthink rut:
The Stepladder Technique
How it works: First, present the problem or task you want to discuss to your team before holding a formal group meeting. Ask each team member to come up with his or her own solution. Then, ask two team members to privately present their ideas to one another. Next, have a third member present his or her idea to the first two members, before they hear what the rest of the group has proposed. After all three have presented their concepts, bring in a fourth person and repeat the process. Keep doing this until all members of the group have brought their ideas to the table.
Why it works: This approach encourages a wide variety of ideas because it doesn’t allow controversy-adverse members to hide in the group and it prevents the one overly vocal person in the office from dominating the decision-making process.
The Crawford Slip Writing Method
How it works: Have a group leader present a problem or task to the team. Next, ask each person to write down one, and only one, possible solution or idea. Once all the ideas have been collected, categorize similar ideas together. The leader then can either present those categories of options to the group as a whole or use them to analyze a possible solution alone. Depending on the issue, you can vary this method by the amount of time you give your team to consider the problem. Asking for a gut reaction, or allowing everyone to sleep on it, can produce very different results.
Why it works: Not only does this approach help you examine a problem from multiple perspectives but, because it is anonymous, the group can be open, without worrying about how ideas will be received.
The Six Thinking Hats
How it works: Each group member is asked to wear a different color hat, with each color denoting a different meaning and responsibility. The black hat wearer looks at all the negative points of a possible decision, whereas the team member sporting the yellow hat takes a “glass half full” view. The white hatter focuses on facts, while the green cap person seeks a creative solution. The red hat looks at the problem using emotion, intuition, and gut instinct. And finally, the blue hat leads the meeting, processing the input generated by the others and concluding with a decision that is likely to reflect a combination of the different mindsets.
Why it works: This method challenges your team to look at problems from different angles. Asking group members to represent a way of thinking that may be outside their norm (for instance, the office cynic could be assigned the yellow, optimistic hat), you ensure that you’ll get unique and new perspectives.
The Decision Tree
How it works: This approach is a very organized game of “What if . . . ” Let’s say your company is looking to remove an old product. First, lay out two options: Keeping the product versus removing the product. Next, explore what consequences each course of action would have? For example, if you keep the product, would you work to change it or keep it as it is now? How much would it cost to change the product versus leaving it the same? How much could be gained from changing the product versus leaving it as is? What are estimated costs or profits of each option?
Then, look at the other side of the issue. If you remove the old product, will you replace it with a completely new option, or do nothing? How much would it cost to create a new product? How much would you lose by not replacing the product? What are the estimated costs or profits of each option?
Why it works: The decision tree encourages you to map out options and their potential consequences to help you realistically estimate the risk involved by taking a particular path.
Of course, these are just a few group decision techniques that your small business can utilize. And you’ll find that some problems, and office environments, fit better with certain techniques than others. Mix it up and see what works for your group decision making. By looking at a problem or task in a new light, you open up new possibilities, as well as a new confidence that you’ll make a sound decision.
Have you tried any of these techniques? Do you have other techniques that have worked well for your group? Share them here!