Group Decision Making

Decision making is the process whereby a final but best choice is made among the alternative available. Group decision making is collective decision making by group members. Group offer an excellent vehicle for performing many of the stages in the decision making process. They work for information gathering. If the group is composed of individual with diverse background, the alternatives generated should be more critical. When the final support is agreed upon there are more people in a group decision to support and implement it. 

Group decision making is emerging as an important tool of management in all organizations. It is the concepts of participatory management in which team working is gaining popularity. The decision making groups can be classified as formal groups, informal groups, permanent groups and temporary groups. All these groups are involved in some kind of decision making activities. The group members share ideas, analyze them and agree upon a decision to implement. Studies show that the group often has values, feelings and reactions quite different from those of which manager supposes they have. If handled in a right way, groups usually make better decisions than individuals acting alone.

In other words, group decision making involves many people and ensures that every member understands the purpose of the decision and his/her part in implementation. Conflicts and dissent can be openly discussed and resolved in the process. Since the people who have to implement the decisions are aware of the goals, group decisions are more likely to be translated into actions.

Decisions are taken either by an individual or by a group. Individuals are very creative and they will have the ability to make decisions individually and effectively. Most creative ideas come from interactions and the participatory effects of individuals in groups. In a group, members effectively identify problems, choose alternatives and evaluate decisions. Such decisions are mostly unbiased and very effective because members bring heterogeneous inputs to the problem and make evaluation of inputs following the interaction process. In fact, it is not possible to generalize whether individuals or groups are better decision makers. It depends on the activities and abilities of the individuals and groups and also on the kind of task being under taken.

There are two types of group decision-making sessions. First is free discussion in which the problem is simply put on the table for the group to talk about. The other kind of group decision making is developmental discussion or structured discussion. Here the problem is broken down into steps or smaller parts with specific goals.

Group decisions may be more effective in case of following situations.
  1. When the time is sufficient.
  2. When decision is important and is non-planned or non-programmed in nature.
  3. When enough information is available on the basis of which members may act rationally.
  4. When participants are committed to the decision.
  5. When the opinions of the members from divergent areas are important in reaching a solution.
  6. When wider range of critical observations is required and
  7. When lower level management is encouraged to participate in decision making.

Some benefits of Group Work

  1. It provides learning. Groups are better than individuals at understanding problems.
  2. People readily take ownership of problems and their solutions. They take responsibility.
  3. Group members have their egos embedded in the decision and so they will be committed to the solution.
  4. Groups are better than individuals at catching errors.
  5. A group has more information (knowledge) than any one member. Groups can combine this knowledge to create new knowledge. More and more creative alternatives for problem-solving can be generated and better solutions can be derived.
  6. A group may produces synergy during problem solving.
  7. Working in a group may stimulate the creativity to the participants and the process.
  8. A group may have better and more precise communication working together.
  9. Risk propensity is balanced. Groups moderate high-risk takers and encourage conservatives.

Advantages of Group Decision Making

The group decision making offer the following advantages: 
  • Compared to an individual, the groups usually have a greater knowledge, expertise, and skill base to make better decisions. 
  • Larger number of members provides more perspective of the problem. As such, the narrow vision of a single perspective is avoided in making decisions.
  • With large numbers of group members, the participation also increases that helps to reach at a quality decision.
  • Following increased group participation, comprehensive of final decision arrived at is usually high. 
  • Generates more information, ideas and solutions. 
  • Builds team feelings. 
  • Communicates information to more people improving understanding and morale. 
  • Increases commitment and acceptance to the solution. 
  • Shares responsibility 
  • Builds interpersonal and leadership skills. 
  • Particularly suitable to non-programmed decision making. 

Disadvantages of Group Decision Making

All is not good with group decision making. It suffers from the following disadvantages: 
  • Group decision making is a time consuming process.
  • Influence groups usually manipulate the group decision in a direction of their linking and interest.
  • Sometimes decisions made by the group members are simply a compromise between the various views and options offered by the group members. 
  • Requires better group management and communication skills.
  • May create conflict between supporters of different views. 
  • Minority domination. 
  • Domination of vocal, few who talk the loudest and the longest. 
  • Ambiguous (unclear) responsibility.

Issues Related to Group Decision Making

There is no doubt that a group can make effective decisions which are accepted by all members with full ownership to implement these for their collective success. All members have the equal opportunity to participate and share information in course of selecting best alternative from among set of alternatives. However, in spite of these advantages, the nature of group dynamics will affect its effectiveness. Some of the constraining factors in group decision making are as follows:

1. Groupthink

Groupthink refers to the tendency of the members of a highly cohesive group to lose their evaluative capabilities or abilities. It describes situations in which group pressures for conformity deter the group from critically appraising unusual, minor or unpopular views. In a groupthink process, members are in a very cohesive situation. They do not like to criticize or evaluate one another's ideas and statements. This tendency obviously leads to agreement without creative discussion among the members. This occurs because of strong pressure on individual members to maintain harmonious group relations. Therefore, it is taken as a disease that attacks many groups and can dramatically hinder their performance.

2. Group shift or Group Polarization

The group shift can be viewed actually as a special case of groupthink. It refers to the tendency of groups to make more extreme decisions than individuals working alone. An individual feels uncomfortable to form a high risk opinion alone. However, if she/he meets in a group, she/he may be ready to accept a high level of risk. Thus, individual opinion may differ after meeting in the group. When the individual gets social support from other members, she/he will be ready to take more risk. Similarly, when all members agree or believe in the same cause through reasoning and discussion, it will help the individual to take more risk than before.

3. Time Constraints

Generally, groups take a long time for organization, co-ordination and socialization. If groups are larger, there will be problems of communication and interaction, and will take long time to make decisions. It is not possible to speak to all members at one time and thus time will be a constraining factor for individuals in presenting personal views. When people cannot present their personal ideas, there might be fewer chances for creative ideas to come forward for making effective group decisions.

4. Conformity to Peer Pressure

Group norms refer to the informal rules and expectations that groups establish and they will guide group members to behave at work place. They work as pressure to follow the behavior among group members. Thus, even at the time of strong disagreement of an individual member, she/he cannot present creative ideas due to the effect of group pressure to agree to group ideas. In such a situation, if an individual tries to put his/her ideas, other members may warn or punish him/her to discourage such ideas in the future.

Potential Dysfunctions of Group Work (Process Losses)

  • Social pressure of conformity may result in group-think (people begin to think alike and not tolerate new ideas – yielding to conformance pressures).
  • It is a time-consuming, slow process (only one member can speak at a time).
  • Lack of coordination of meeting work and poor meeting planning.
  • Inappropriate influences (domination of time, topic, opinion by one or few individuals; fear of contributing because of the possibility of flaming and so on).
  • Tendency of group members to rely on others to do most of the work.
  • Tendency to produce compromised solutions of poor quality.
  • Non-productive time (socializing, preparing, waiting for late-comers-air-time fragmentation).
  • Tendency to repeat what was already said (because of failure to remember of process).
  • High cost meeting (travel, participation etc).
  • Tendency of groups to make riskier decisions than they should.
  • Incomplete or inappropriate use of information.
  • Too much information (information overload).
  • Few information cues.
  • Incomplete or incorrect task analysis.
  • Inappropriate or incomplete representation in the group.
  • Attention blocking.
  • Attenuation blocking.
  • Concentration blocking.
  • Slow feedback.
Source: Turban, E. et. al. (2005), Decision Support Systems and Intelligent Systems.

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