Group Decision Making Theory

Introduction

Group decision-making refers to a situation where individuals have to make a choice collectively based on the alternatives presented to them (Fox, 2015). It is common to find cases where decisions have to be made by a group of people because of the prevailing circumstances. Sahin (2014) “Since managing diversity and conflict in teams are emerging issues to study in the context of knowledge intensive services in general, it is also important to know that managing agreement can be a big concern.” Scholars have looked at how to manage teams and conflicts that may arise from such units. One of the most important issues that cannot be ignored in such units is the decision-making process.

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According to McMahon (2017), it may not be easy for a team to come up with a universally accepted decision within a short time unless they are facing a common problem that influences their decision in the same manner. In the modern society, cohesion in teams is increasingly becoming important. The need to bring together ideas of people with diverse background has never been as critical as it is in the modern organizational setting.

However, Brantly (2017) warns that the more diverse a group is, the more complex it is for them to come to an agreement over a given issue. People often tend to base their decisions on their knowledge, experiences, and background. Even in such diverse settings within an organization, when a decision has to be made by a group, then one must ensure that views of everyone is factored in before a decision is made. In this communication theory paper, the focus will be to look at how groups make decision, focusing on Groupthink Theory as a model that can explain such processes.

Groupthink Theory in Group Decision-Making

According to Rodríguez (2017), “Groupthink is a communication theory that explains the behavioral pattern that is demonstrated by team members in order to avoid conflict and reach to a consensus without a critical analysis of the issue.” The theory seeks to explain how groups make mistakes when making decisions by avoiding issues that may be considered controversial. When teams have to come up with a common solution or opinion, compromises have to be made, especially when the members have varying opinions.

This theory argues that people tend to ignore the need to make critical analysis of the issues presented to them when they are in groups. They emphasize so much on the need to avoid conflicts at the expense of making a decision based on facts. Sometimes group pressure causes deterioration of mental efficiency, moral judgment, and reality testing, especially when there are two or more extreme points of view (Fox, 2015). Reason fails to reign and people opt to go for the alternative that is least controversial to the team, irrespective of how effective it is in solving a given problem.

It is important to note that decisions made by groups are always compromised, as explained in this theory. Pautz and Forrer (2013) say, “Groups bring out the worst as well as the best in terms of decision-making.” Some of the decisions made by groups are always superior to that made by individuals. That is so because the group members can discuss the options presented critically before selecting the most appropriate one. Shortcomings of an individual are often addressed by the presence of other members of the group. It means that one only needs to understand how to manage group decision-making process to achieve the most appropriate result.

According to McMahon (2017), when there are no clear rules and patterns for decision-making in an organizational setting, then the team will be vulnerable to groupthink problem. Before the team can settle down to make a decision, the biggest problem they will have to deal with is how the process itself is to be conducted. Successful organizations around the world have learnt how to build structures and systems that facilitate decision-making processes (Kaba et al., 2016).

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In the current competitive business environment, firms cannot afford to make mistakes. It is easy for an individual to make a mistake that may be very costly to an organization. That is why companies are now setting up systems and structures to facilitate decision-making at group level. By using Groupthink Theory, it is now possible to identify these shortcomings and to come up with an effective solution to the associated challenges.

Group Decision-Making Approaches

When an individual is making a decision, the process is often simple and straightforward. Factors such as background, level of knowledge and experience, and personal desires and interests often define the decision that one makes when presented with such a situation. However, the process is very different when it comes to group decision-making process. In this case, two or more minds- sometimes having conflicting views towards an issue- have to come together and agree on a given issue or choose a given alternative (Murata et al., 2015). In this section, it is important to look at the approaches that can be used in, group decision-making processes, and how groupthink affects them as explained in the Groupthink Theory.

Consensus Decision-Making

One of the most common and popular approach of making decisions is through consensus. In this approach, members agree that whenever they have to make a decision, then they have to come together, discuss the issue, and reach a consensus based on facts presented. This is one of the approaches worst affected by groupthink syndrome. Sometimes members deliberately slow the process to influence the outcome, not necessarily considering facts necessary for the conclusion to be made. Many people prefer consensus because it allows every member of the team to share his or her ideas. It is an inclusive approach of decision-making process in teams.

However, Kaba et al. (2016) warn that in such settings, not everyone is always willing to share their views. One may have the best idea that can help address the problem at hand but fail to present it to the team, allowing inferior decisions to prevail. Consensus also requires small teams where individuals can easily engage with all other team members before an alternative is selected. When dealing with large teams, it is almost impossible to use this method effectively.

However, when a decision is finally made, members often feel entitled to and responsible for the outcome. According to Edman (2006), “If groups are subject to groupthink in a business game, they are committed to their decisions in the game regardless of their performance.” They will be willing to put more effort to ensure that their decision yields success.

Voting-Based Approach

Voting-based approach of making decisions is also very popular, especially in democratic settings. In this approach, Brantly (2017) says that members have to accept the fact that sometimes it is impossible to have a consensus over a given issue. The difference in opinion of the members may be so strong that it may not be possible to reach a unanimous decision. In such cases, members of the team must allow the opinion of the majority to prevail.

After a discussion, members will be requested to choose a given alternative through a secret ballot, acclamation, or any other voting pattern that the team considers appropriate. The decision of the majority will prevail. This approach of decision-making is less affected by groupthink syndrome compared with consensus because in the end every group member will make a personal choice based on his or her knowledge, experience, and interest.

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However, sometimes the majority’s decision may not be the right one or the most appropriate. It means that a group can be forced to adopt a given alternative, not because it is the most desirable one, but because it is supported by the majority. Another problem with this approach is that a section of the members may feel that they are not responsible for the outcome of the decision because their views were defeated by that of the majority.

Delegated Approach

In large groups where consensus decision-making is not possible, the team may decide to delegate the task to a select subcommittee. The subcommittee must consist of trusted individuals who can represent the interest of the other members. Such approaches to decision-making are common in large corporations where board of directors have to be appointed. The board will be expected to make decisions based on not only their personal interests but also the interest of all other members who have trusted them with that responsibility.

When making decisions, the subcommittee may use either the consensus or voting-based approach based on the predetermined pattern. The main problem with this approach is that members who are not part of the subcommittee will always want to own positive outcomes of such decisions but distance themselves from outcomes that fail to meet expectations.

Benefits of Group Decision-Making

It is easy for one to conclude that decision-making by groups is less desirable based on the tenets of Groupthink Theory. However, McMahon (2017) says that decisions made by groups are often more effective and respected than those made by individuals. If a group is able to address challenges discussed in the next section, then the alternative they would select often have good impact on their organizations. In this section, it will be necessary to look at the specific benefits associated with this approach of making decisions.

Knowledge Sharing

According to Murata et al. (2015), one of the greatest benefits of group decision-making processes is that it facilitates sharing of knowledge. When two or more people come together to make a decision, they will have to share their knowledge and experiences over the issue. When one gives an opinion, members can discuss it by identifying its strengths and weaknesses and how it can be improved. Positive criticism in such discussions also promotes critical thinking among members.

Every team member will know that coming up with a decision over an issue is not enough to convince the members. One must have justification why their decision is the most appropriate. Through such engagements, members become more committed and interested in investigating the issue under investigation to gather facts other than allowing emotions and experiences to inform the decision.

Task Sharing

Task sharing is another benefit of groups when making decisions. Sometimes a decision may need thorough research before making a conclusion. When it is one person involved in the process, a lot of time will be wasted trying to do everything. When working in groups, members can be assigned specific responsibilities. Each member will then share with the team the outcome of the responsibilities assigned to them.

A decision will then be made based on the outcomes of the tasks done by the individual members. The approach is common in marketing strategies where a firm must make a decision based on information from various sources (Fox, 2015). Each marketing representative would be assigned a given task that must be completed within a specified time. The outcome of their tasks would inform the approach that the firm takes in the market.

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Peer-Review

Peer-review is another major benefit of group-decision making processes. However, Brantly (2017) says that this only happens in organizations that have established systems and structures of group decision-making processes. In such systems, employees are allowed to make decisions over a given issue and justify their decisions. Group members would then be required to review the decisions of their colleagues and provide feedback based on facts and personal opinion.

One can then go through the feedback provided by the colleagues to identify areas of strength and weaknesses. McMahon (2017) says that although such an approach is time consuming, it creates a learning culture. Members get to improve their knowledge by constantly learning from their peers. It also promotes cohesion.

Challenges Associated with Group Decision-Making

Groupthink Theory identifies significant challenges associated with decision-making by groups. The theory holds that although it is not possible to avoid making decisions as a group, it is important to appreciate that such processes are affected by a number of challenges. In this section of the paper, it is important to look at the fundamental challenges of group decision-making processes.

Avoiding Responsibilities

According to Kaba et al. (2016), one of the biggest challenges associated with group decision-making, as explained in groupthink theory, is the tendency to avoid important responsibilities by group members. The feeling that it is the responsibility of every group member to contribute towards making the decision may make some of him or her lazy and less committed. The problem is common in cases where voting is used to select the most appropriate decision.

Those who feel that they may be outvoted will feel less committed in doing research and coming up with the most effective solution. They will feel that their input is less relevant to the alternative that will be finally selected. It means that such teams will miss the important contributions that would have been made by these team members if they were to remain active.

Procrastination

Procrastination is one of the biggest challenges associated with group decision-making processes. The problem is common when dealing with the younger generation whose are generally influenced to act based on what their peers are doing. Hogg (2013) says, “Generation Y makes decisions in the workplace regarding time to promotion or fair remuneration by comparing themselves against their peers.”

Such individuals would avoid making decisions until such a time that their colleagues in other organizations act on a given issue. The problem with procrastination is that when the team finally settles to make a decision, they are affected by time constraint. They rush to reach a consensus or vote without fully understanding the facts associated with the issue. In such cases, it is often difficult to make the right decision because of the limited research.

Trivialization

Trivialization is another common problem when making decisions as a team. Some people tend to consider some things as being less important or complex than what they really are. Others ignore problems as being minor, expecting normalcy to return after a short while and without a major action being made. Murata et al. (2015) say, “Normalcy biases represent our propensity to regard minor abnormalities as normal.” It becomes a problem when an urgent decision cannot be made because those who should be making it consider the issue as less significant to the organization.

McMahon (2017) says that the problem may be worsened if those who are expected to lead the teams are involved in the trivialization. Such teams may not deliver on their mandate because the leaders will fail to bring together members in time to help in the decision-making process.

Bearing Mistakes of Others

Bearing mistakes of others is another major problem that is associated with group decision-making processes. It is easy and pleasant to enjoy success and benefits resulting from the right and timely decisions made by group members even if one had a contrary opinion. In fact, it is rare for one to admit that they had a contrary opinion to the chosen alternative if the desired outcome is achieved. However, if the chosen alternative fails to work, then many people tend to distance themselves from it. Those who had conflicting opinion, some of which would have had more disastrous outcome, would blame their colleagues for making wrong decisions. Such blame games kill team spirit (Fox, 2015).

It makes team members reluctant to share their ideas in future when another decision is needed. At the same time, it is important to appreciate that when a team makes a wrong decision, then those who had the right opinion but failed to convince members will have to bear the mistake of their colleagues. Bell (2016) “Beyond political realities, groupthink can cause individual loss of life or other forms of human tragedy.” Some mistakes can have disastrous outcome on the organization and the involved parties. It is unfair for one to pay the ultimate price for a mistake committed by others.

Conclusion

Making decisions as a group is not as easy as when it is done by an individual. Groupthink Theory identifies challenges associated with the process of making decisions as a group. Some of these challenges may completely paralyze the ability of the team to make timely decisions in an organizational setting. However, it is clear from the research that it is not possible to avoid group decision-making processes.

It is important to find ways of addressing the challenges through various strategies. The improved communication platform should be used to ensure that members of the team could engage more effectively when they have to make decisions. They have to understand the importance of embracing facts over emotions in such important processes.

References

Bell, M. (2016). First century groupthink: An exegetical case study. Journal of Biblical Integration in Business, 19(26), 27-36.

Beran, T., Kaba, A., Caird, J., & McLaughlin, K. (2014). The good and bad of group conformity: A call for a new programme of research in medical education. Medical Education, 48(9), 851-859.

Brantly, A. (2017). The polythink syndrome: U.S. foreign policy decisions on 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and ISIS. Perspectives on Politics, 15(1), 299-300.

Edman, J. (2006). Group composition and groupthink in a business game. Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, 33(1), 278-282.

Fox, S. (2015). Relevance: A framework to address preconceptions that limit perceptions of what is relevant. International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, 8(4), 804-812.

Hogg, D. (2013). Application of groupthink to generation Y decision making processes within a professional services context in New Zealand. International Journal of Business and Management, 8(8), 69-76.

Kaba, A., Wishart, I., Fraser, K., Coderre, S., & McLaughlin, K. (2016). Are we at risk of groupthink in our approach to teamwork interventions in health care? Medical Education, 50(4), 400-408.

McMahon, P. (2017). Human rights protection in global politics: Responsibilities of states and non-state actors. Perspectives on Politics, 15(1), 298-299.

Murata, A., Nakamura, T., & Karwowski, W. (2015). Influence of cognitive biases in distorting decision making and leading to critical unfavorable incidents. Safety, 1(1), 44-58.

Pautz, J., & Forrer, D. (2013).The dynamics of groupthink: The Cape Coral experience. Journal of International Energy Policy, 3(2), 1.

Rodríguez, P. (2017). Conceptual model of communication theories within project process. INNOVA Research Journal, 2(3), 42-51.

Sahin, C. (2014). Managing communication in knowledge-intensive service teams: Groupthink theory revisited. Business Management and Strategy, 5(2), 183-193.

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StudyCorgi. (2020, November 27). Group Decision Making Theory. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/group-decision-making-theory/

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