Decision Making Tools for Group Decisions

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This is a guest article by author Edoardo Binda Zane.

If you are a project manager, making tough calls and decisions is part of your everyday life.

Usually, the more time you spend in this role, the more thick-skinned you become in making risky calls on your own. After all, directing the project is your job and your priority is delivering results within your deadlines.

Regardless of how much project management experience you have, at a certain point you will still want or need to make a decision as a team.

And that is where problems start.

Anytime you involve your team in project decisions, the complexity you have to deal with increases exponentially. Simply put, you’re not the only thinking head anymore, you’re suddenly one of many and it’s on you to coordinate them. At this point then, the question is not so much how to manage team decisions, but rather how to manage this amount of complexity.

Read next: How to make better decisions

In this article, I will give you a few tools to help you facilitate the process and direct your team’s efforts and energy in the right direction.

Bad Practices

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of it, let’s clear one thing up: calling your team in for a meeting or conference call to brainstorm about solutions is a very bad idea, for two reasons.

The first one is that brainstorming doesn’t actually work, and is actually counterproductive to decision-making (more on this here).

The second one is that you assume everyone on your team knows as much as you do about the project, whereas instead they might really only care about their own work package.

If you make decisions as a group but you don’t have everyone on the same page, you will lack the basis for your work, and that will lead to a flawed decision.

So, instead of resorting to brainstorming, start from farther away.

The Group Decision Process

Making a decision as a group is a 3-step process:

  1. Deciding whether you need your team
  2. Getting everyone on the same page
  3. Agree decision making tools and decide

Step 1: Deciding Whether You Need Your Team

The first step in making a decision as a group is actually assessing whether you need a group at all!

Group decisions can be tricky, even with appropriate instruments. For this reason, I’m always extremely careful about calling for one.

My preferred practice is to rely on tools that were specifically developed to assess the optimal level of team involvement. These tools work and also help reduce your bias. My favorite one is called the Vroom-Yetton-Jago model: it is fast and sufficiently detailed.

Depending on how much time you have on your hands, you may also opt for other ones.

In this article I want to focus on the process of group decision-making, so I will skip the how-to of these models. If you are interested in that, take a look at this article.

Step 2: Get Everyone On The Same Page

Everyone has busy lives, including your team members, and the larger the team, the more difficult it becomes to find a moment that suits everyone, and in which everyone will be fully focused.

If you manage to find that 1-2 hour span, you want to make the best possible use of it. What you want is for everyone to enter the meeting fully prepared and engaged. It is up to you to make that happen. Here are two ways of doing so:

Find the root cause of the problem

Making a decision is nothing but finding a solution to a problem. Your job, then, is to identify that right problem before you ask your team to start working, and the best tool I am aware of to do this is called an Ishikawa diagram.

Ishikawa Diagram created by Edoardo
Ishikawa Diagram created by Edoardo

Brilliant in its simplicity: branch out all the general causes or areas that could be the cause of your problem and list out specific sub-areas/sub-categories for each one.

Go as deep as you wish with the subcategories. By detailing and separating root causes, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where your efforts should go to solve your problem.

Engage your team before the meeting

Once you have identified the problem, send it around to your team members, ask them to come up with a few possible solutions, and to send them to you before the meeting.

This will give you two results:

  1. People can think by themselves rather than in a group, therefore the ideas you will get will be much, much more creative;
  2. Everyone will be forced to think about the problem and will make more informed contributions.

This, simply put, can save you precious time during the meeting, time that would instead be wasted in basic explanations.

Getting everyone involved and aware before the meeting can help mitigate against making a bad decision.

Step 3: Agree Decision Making Tools & Decide

At this point you should have all the input you need to lead your meeting. There is, however, one last fundamental point to take care of: choosing your decision method.

You should have a few possible solutions to your problem in hand. During the meeting you’ll need to discuss them and select the right one.

How you will do this depends on a number of factors, e.g. the level of team involvement (see Step 1), the voting requirements (majority vs. consensus), or the problem’s complexity.

Depending on how these factors turn out your decision method can be simple or complex, and as a project manager, the choice of what method to use is entirely yours. You need to make sure, however, that you select an appropriate decision-making tool.

Here are four different ones, in order of complexity:

  • Grid Analysis (comparing choices over a set of criteria)
  • Kepner-Tregoe Matrix (comparing choices over a set of criteria and coefficients)
  • Paired Comparison Analysis (comparing choices against each other and ranking them afterwards)
  • Analytic Hierarchy Process (a complex combination of all the above methods, suited for very complex decisions)

If you’re interested, my decision-making book gives you a step-by-step guide to all of them.

Log your decision on a tracker so you can easily record what you decided and why.

Prepare For The Worst-Case Scenario

I want to make one last caveat. Group decisions and teamwork are great but don’t forget where your loyalty lies. Callous as it may sound, your first responsibility as a project manager is to the project result.

If the project calls for it, be prepared to step in and make a decision on your own. Team members can be unresponsive, busy with other project or simply sick or on holiday and can’t take part in a decision, so whenever you decide to engage the whole team, make sure you have enough information to make that call on your own if need be.

About the author: Edoardo Binda Zane is an innovation trainer and creativity consultant. He’s the author of Effective Decision Making.

Want to get better at decision-making? Check out our how-to post here.

How to Make Decisions As A Group