Team Decision Making

Group or team decision making can often be problematic, depending on the personalities and agendas of those involved, and the types of decisions you’re needing to make. Drawing on a varied, diverse range of expertise can support your team reaching a better decision, but there can be challenges in trying to get people in the same “room” (in person or virtually) and reaching an agreement.

We’ve seen the power of using Loomio to make group decisions, and wanted to share some common decision making techniques you can deploy offline, or online, using a tool like ours to land on the best possible outcome.

Common group decision making techniques

Team decision making, whether you’re a board, professional services firm, or a nonprofit organisation is complex. The degree to which your organisation is willing to make collective decisions will differ depending on the type of decisions needing to be made and organisational culture. We’ll outline some common techniques used amongst boards, senior leaders and volunteer organisations the world over - which technique will resonate best with your team, and deliver quality decisions, every time?

1. Brainstorming

Not uncommon to most organisations, brainstorming allows a free flowing range of ideas and alternatives to be generated by a group or team. This is a quantity versus quality approach, as these initial ideas or thought starters are not necessarily a final decision, but may guide the group to reach one.

In general, steps should be taken to:

  • Accept all ideas from the group, without judgement
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Ensure a level playing field, regardless of a contributor’s role in the organisation
  • Listen to everyone invited to participate
  • Record ideas for further discussion

By producing a high volume of ideas, from a wide range of participants, you should produce a diverse pool of concepts and actions that aren’t influenced by the strong opinions of one or two individuals.

If you feel that some of your team will be unwilling to participate in a traditional meeting environment, you may want to consider a “digital brainstorming” solution, like Loomio. This will allow multiple people to suggest ideas at the same time, at their own pace, and remove any of the common anxiety and confidence barriers that can exist by sharing ideas in a group setting.

2. Nominal Group Technique

The Nominal Group Technique provides a way for people to put forward their ideas or arguments in a private way, and evaluate those ideas to reach a final team decision.

Generally, a Nominal Group decision would ensure:

  • Ideas are submitted in writing, individually
  • Each member has the opportunity to present their ideas to the group and provide further detail
  • The group will then discuss the ideas presented and privately vote on the presented options
  • A decision is made based on the majority vote, or may continue with another cycle of voting once the most popular ideas are established.

This structured process tends to encourage timely, efficient decision making, and removes any unhelpful and time consuming digressions or debates. Group members can feel more accountable for taking a position and presenting their ideas to the wider group. The turn taking element allows everyone to have an equal say on the matter and avoids quick agreement on an issue until all voices are heard. Although effective, this technique can limit creativity of ideas.

A digital tool like Loomio can be useful supporting the sharing of ideas, and transparent voting on the options available.

3. The Delphi Technique

If it’s difficult to assemble your team members, then this technique could be useful for your organisation. Led by a non participating coordinator, a group’s ideas are collated, reviewed and revised without anyone formally meeting.

Typically, the Delphi Technique is deployed by:

  • Email questionnaires sent by and collated by a coordinator
  • Ideas are submitted in writing, individually
  • Coordinator summarises ideas and distributes them back to the team anonymously
  • Team members are provided the opportunity to refine ideas and comments on pros and cons of other’s ideas
  • The coordinator continues this process until ideas are finalised and no further input is received
  • Sometimes, a clear decision will emerge from this process, but team members may be asked to vote on the clear favourites.

The anonymous contributions in this process seek to provide team member accountability, reduce anxiety and eliminate biases from dominant group members. Removing the need to schedule meetings can also fast track the decision making process. Premature decisions aren’t made before all ideas are shared with the group.

Traditionally this decision making technique has been lengthy, but employing digital tools to support the decision making process, especially around the feedback loop and voting process if required can certainly streamline the technique.

4. The Stepladder Technique

Similar to the Nominal Group and Delphi methods, the Stepladder Technique ensures that ideas are provided by a group, and evaluated. However, this method staggers the entry of team members to make a decision and a final decision is made collaboratively as a group.

Starting with two people who assess the problem or issue. Then one more member is added to the decision making team to present their ideas and discuss the issues. Members then continue to be added one at a time until everyone has become part of the discussion. They then work together to get an outcome, or decision.

Key factors to bear in mind include:

  • Allowing team members adequate time to consider the problem
  • New group members have the opportunity to speak first, before other’s ideas are presented
  • Discussion time for new ideas must be allowed for
  • Final solutions must wait until all group members are on board

The structure of this process allows similar positives to other team decision making techniques: team member accountability and eliminating biases from dominant group members. It also prevents decisions being made too hastily before everyone has a chance to participate. The feeling of collective decision making is often reported with this technique, as is high quality decision making.

Using a digital tool such as Loomio can help support the Stepladder Technique. Setting up closed Threads or Groups, then slowly inviting more team members, can assist the step by step ideation of this approach. It can also ensure that all information is being captured in one place, and is transparent to the decision making team.

If these common group decision making techniques don’t appeal, there are some simple strategies you can apply to get the best quality decision making from your team. Try these tips in your next Loomio decision thread.

  1. Keep your groups smaller for important decisions - large groups tend to make biased decisions based on others in the group,
  2. Ensure your group has a diverse range of experience and opinions - generally diverse ideas generate better outcomes,
  3. Use a devil’s advocate - having someone actively challenge the ideas of others can ensure you’re making the right decisions for the right reasons,
  4. Gather individual opinions before sharing with a wider group - this can reduce bias in a group situation,
  5. Providing a safe place to speak out - you won’t generate good ideas without a safe place to share them (constructive criticism is key),
  6. Experts don’t necessarily make the best decision makers - they can be part of your decision making process but shouldn’t hold the only opinion,
  7. Collective responsibility - the final outcome and decision making process should feel like everyone’s journey.

Keen to learn more? You can trial Loomio free for 30 days - see how it could support your team decision making today.