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Group Decision Making
by Andrew E. Schwartz

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Many managers feel they are well-versed in areas of group effort, such as problem-solving, goal-setting, and action planning. Frequently, however, the implementation of such techniques never seem to get beyond the initial stage. Often, this is because managers can not quite seem to understand that brainstorming or group decision-making requires comprehensive utilization of various processes. Managers may unknowingly find themselves perpetuating problems instead of solving them by participating in the following situations (one or more of them will certainly look familiar):

Decision by Lack of Response - The Plop Method: The most common'and perhaps least visible'group decision-making method is that in which someone suggests an idea and, before anyone else has said anything about it, someone else suggests another idea, until the group finds one it will act on. This results in shooting down the original idea before it has really been considered. All the ideas that are bypassed, have, in a sense been rejected by the group because the 'rejections' have been simply a common decision not to support the ideas, the proposers feel that their suggestion has 'plopped." The floors of most conference rooms are completely littered with plops.

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 needs to 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 should be considered decisions' but which are taken without the consent of the majority.

A single person can 'enforce' a decision, particularly if they are in some kind of chairmanship role, by not giving opposition an opportunity to build up. For example, the manager might consult a few members on even the most seemingly insignificant step and may get either a negative or positive reaction. The others have remained silent. If asked how they concluded there was agreement, chances are that they will say, 'Silence means consent, doesn't it? Everyone has a chance to voice opposition.' If the group members are interviewed later, it sometimes is discovered that an actual majority was against a given idea, but that each one hesitated to speak up because she thought that all the other silent ones were for it. They too were trapped by 'silence means consent.'

Finally, 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.

Andrew E. Schwartz, CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates of Boston, MA a comprehensive management training and professional development organization offering over 40 skills specific programs and practical solutions to today's business challenges.

Copyright, AE Schwartz & Associates. All rights reserved.
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