4 Strategies for Better Group Decision-Making

We all know that teams typically outperform individuals. Teams tend to perform better not only because they devote more people to work on a task but also because they bring together various set of skills and perspectives to create a multiplying effect. More minds are better than one, right? Not always.

According to a watershed study, a “Goldilocks” sized team – one that is not too small and not too big – is 4.6 people, which in the real world rounds up to 5. Another recent research revealed that after the 7th person in a decision-making group, each additional member reduces decision effectiveness by 10%. The broader consensus thus goes fifty-fifty, with an ideal team size of about 6 people.

Getting the right team size, however, is only part of the answer. Even with the ideal team size, unfocused discussions can slow down the decision-making process. Let’s look at four simple strategies to help you make effective decisions in a group:

1. Create a heterogeneous group (most of the time).

Several studies have revealed that groups made up of individuals with similar opinions and beliefs are likely to engage in biased decision making. A heterogeneous team – consisting of members with a diverse orientation – can more effectively combat biases.

That being said, context also matters. Heterogeneous teams may signifcantly outperform homogeneous ones in convoluted tasks that require different skillsets and perspectives, such as conducting research and designing processes. However, in repetitive tasks, demanding structured and convergent thinking, homogenous groups often do better.

So before you assemble a suitable team, try to fully understand the nature of the decision the group will be taking.

2. Stay on the Goldilocks zone when making important decisions

When large groups participate in decision-making, there is a much higher chance of bias creeping in. For instance, research shows that groups with seven or more members are an easy target for confirmation bias. The larger the group, the greater the tendency for its members to gather and evaluate information in a way that confirms their prior beliefs and values.

So, try to keep the group to between three and five people as it is a size that people are naturally drawn to when interacting. By doing this, not only can you mitigate the negative effects, you can also reap benefits from multiple perspectives.

3. Get input separately, then share perspectives

As a leader, you can only capitalise on the collective knowledge of your group if used properly. The best way to fully exploit your team’s diverse capabilities is by collecting individual input before they share their views with others in the group.

For example, you may ask your group members to jot down their ideas independently and anonymously in a shared document. Later, ask the individuals to go through proposed ideas without associating any of the suggestions to a particular group member. Also, ensure that you level the playing field for everyone with different communication styles.

With such a repetitive process, teams can eliminate biases as well as prevent groupthink. In addition to that, this also ensures that alleged expertise or hidden agendas don’t negatively impact the group’s decisions.

4. Make your discussions a safe space

In order for people to share their views and engage in constructive dissent, they must be given the freedom to speak up without fear of judgement or retribution. As a leader, it is your responsibility to encourage people to discuss divergent opinions, doubts, and experiences in a respectful manner.

If you want to create a safe space and make the most out of a group’s diversity, you need to focus on the discussed strategy, not on the individual. Make sure you pass your comment or remark as a suggestion, not as a command. Most importantly, provide feedback in a way that manifests you recognize and appreciate the individuals working towards the common purpose and the shared goal.

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Author: Paul Keijzer

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