Basics of group decision making and problem solving
Two heads are better than one
A human mind always tends to be assured in the made decision, and what's more, it wants to spread the responsibility for the decision between the largest possible number of participants. Especially when it concerns vital or social issues. That is why people came to such popular group thinking forms as commitees, boards, commissions, chambers, etc.
The effectiveness of group thinking as largely depends on what type of problem a group faces. There can be 3 basic problem types:
Psychology analyses show that collaborative work is most effective with the first and the second types. When dealing with complex issues group members share their opinions, generate ideas and correct each other's mistakes which makes teamwork extremely effective.
- logic or numeric tasks
- knowledge-based issues
- creative problem solving
There are many ways how a group can make a final decision, decide on a solution, or come to agreement. Some of the most popular ways of making the decision include:
- Consensus: The group members all agree on the final decision through discussion and debate.
- Compromise: Through discussion and readjustment of the final plan, group members come to agreement by giving up some of their demands.
- Majority Vote: The decision is based on the opinion of the majority of its members.
- Decision by Leader: The group gives the final decision to its leader.
5 advantages of group decision making:
- Greater knowledge: because of the number of people involved, each with differing experience, knowledge, points of view and values, a larger number and variety of ideas for solving a problem can be produced.
- Greater skills: Even the best qualified individual cannot have all of the skills to reach a complex goal. Some people excel at coming up with the ideas while others focus on plans, numbers and figures. The key advantage is that when a team works together, it has a huge range of skills available that it can utilize to deliver extraordinary results.
- Creative approach: commonly people tend to be conservative and rational in daily decision making. However, most of crucial decisions require breakthrough in traditionalism. Group always provides stimulus to the imagination, encouraging individuals to explore ideas they would not otherwise consider.
- Shared responsibility: makes individuals more willing to take risks. The discussion of different points of view also helps the group to be more realistic in assessing the risks associated with particular courses of action.
- Higher commitment: individuals who have contributed to finding a solution feel a greater commitment to its successful implementation.
5 weak points of group decision making:
- Conformity: there is a strong tendency for individuals in a group to want to conform to the consensus. This can be due to a variety of reasons, including the need to feel valued or respected. The comparative status of the participating individuals also has an important influence. Senior members often want to maintain their image of being knowledgeable, while junior members want to avoid appearing the inexperienced 'upstart'.
- Dominance: often a group has a strong personality, a leader with higher status or better oratorical skills. Such an individual may suppress other team members, ignore opinions and ideas that fairly correspond to his or her points of view.
- Less recognition: identifying who really did his/her best is difficult to do as it is a collaborative effort thus less chance for recognition or promotion.
- Time consumption: group problem solving is a relatively slow process compared with working alone. It requires individuals to come together at an agreed time, usually for about one hour, and this can cause organizational problems as well as impatience amongst participants to 'get it over with' as quickly as possible.
- Groupthink effects (Irving Janis): groupthink effect occurs when group members have an over-estimated belief in a group power. Most common symptoms involve: having an illusion of invulnerability, rationalizing poor decisions, believing in the group's morality, sharing stereotypes which guide the decision, exercising direct pressure on others, not expressing true feelings, maintaining an illusion of unanimity, using mindguards to protect the group from negative information.
Role of specialized software
To amplify the group thinking advantages and reduce negative effects of its weak points a special software is being developed. Often the collaboration function is not done as the single software but more as a part of a decision support software. General idea of a group decision making tools is to provide a common ground to create ideas (elements of a decision tree), add criteria and estimates into a project and to find a right method of processing the group work. Daniel T. Maxwell believes that "...it is critical that the tools be visually intuitive and easily (quickly) modified in response to discussion".
Here in this article we will view the basic teamwork functions offered by MindDecider software.
Teamwork allows users to do the following:
A user who has created a project is called a project author (or project administrator). Such an author has additional authorities to control authorities of the other users. In that context MindDecider proposes 5 basic types of teamwork options:
- create, rename and remove items
- edit item's estimates, weights or probabilities
- add, rename and remove criteria, edit their significances.
One of the basic goals of Teamwork is to reach a consensus - a group estimate by each criterion, representing a result of individual estimates given by all users. This is not just simple average meaning. In MindDecider, each user is attributed with a specific influence status. Commonly, these statuses are assigned by a project administrator upon the start of Teamwork. More influence status means more significance of user's estimates comparing to the other authors.
- Brainstorm: the joined authors may only create and rename project items. Items cannot be deleted.
- Estimation: allows to edit the exisistng project estimates. Project items and its criteria are fixed and cannot be edited. Each author may view the other authors' estimates.
- Colloquium: provides centralized work on editing the existing project's estimates. Each author creates estimates by his/her own name. Other authors' estimates cannot be viewed (except for project author). Project items and its criteria are fixed and cannot be edited.
- Full access: provides authors with maximal freedom in collaborative work on the project.
- Other: here, a project administrator may arbitrarily select required options to set his/her own Teamwork type.
MindDecider features 3 basic types of consensus:
- Average, where estimates are calculated according to users' influence statuses.
- Pessimistic, where the lowest estimate by the given criterion is chosen. User's influence status is not considered here.
- Optimistic, where the highest estimate by the given criterion is chosen. User's influence status is not considered here as well.
- Irving Janis, Victims of groupthink: a psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1972.
- Michael R.Callaway, James K. Esser, Groupthink: Effects of cohesiveness and problem-solving procedures on group decision making, Social Behavior and Personality, Volume 12, Number 2, 1984, pp.157-164.
- Carl E. Larson, Frank M.J. LaFasto, Teamwork: What Must Go Right / What Can Go Wrong, Sage Publications, 1989, 152p.
- John C. Maxwell, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork Workbook: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team, Thomas Nelson Workbook edition, 2003, 240p.
- Daniel T. Maxwell, Decision Analysis: Find a Tool that Fits, OR/MS Today, 2008, Vol.35. No5.
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