Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 48;   December 1, 2004: Decisions, Decisions: II

Decisions, Decisions: II


Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions?

Here's Part II of a catalog of group decision processes. Check out "Decisions, Decisions: I," Point Lookout for November 17, 2004, for more.

Time-boxed consensus
gives the group
a low-risk opportunity
to practice consensus
Time-boxed Consensus
The group reaches a consensus before a specified deadline. If it fails, another pattern (usually Authority) kicks in.
This approach can mitigate both the efficiency risk of Consensus, and the alienation risk of Authority. It can be especially helpful in a polarized environment, where it gives the group a low-risk opportunity to practice consensus.
Majority Vote
A voteA conventional aye/nay vote. If the number of ayes exceeds a preset threshold, the proposal is accepted. If the threshold is more than half, this method is called a supermajority vote.
This procedure allows more dissenters than consensus, which speeds decisions, even in a polarized environment. But that strength is also a weakness — it can foster the development of factions, and if a proposal is adopted, the minority often feels alienated. Decisions by thin majorities in a polarized environment can exacerbate polarization.
In every method except Authority, the authority's vote is just one among equals. The Veto enables the authority to negate a group decision, which mitigates the risk of groupthink.
This procedure is rarely used in business, and even more rarely is it declared openly. The risk of alienation is extraordinary.
A somewhat safer approach is a technical veto, which overrides the group's decision on the basis of legal, ethical or regulatory grounds. Even a technical veto can risk alienation, but at least the authority is less directly involved.
Expert Subgroup
The decision is delegated to an expert subgroup, which then uses any of the other patterns to reach a decision, and the larger group is then bound to adopt the result. If the subgroup's decision isn't binding, then no delegation has actually occurred — instead, it's just a committee study.
Expert Subgroup delegation addresses the risk of slower, more cumbersome processes such as the various forms of Consensus, but it introduces some risk that flaws and alternatives won't be fully illuminated or considered. It can work in a polarized environment, provided all major factions are represented. Even if they are, if one faction is small, this method increases the probability of blockage by a lone dissenter, because the body is smaller, and it subjects that dissenter to much greater pressure. This threatens the credibility of the result, because the expert subgroup can be seen as an isolation tactic.

A common source of trouble with any of these methods is confusing the content decision with the process decision. Be clear about the difference: deciding whether to decide, by when to decide, how to decide, who will decide, or what pattern will be used are process decisions. Blurring the content decision with any of the various required process decisions can introduce tension and conflict — and keep you from deciding anything at all. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: A Guide for the Humor-Impaired  Next Issue

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