Nominal Group Technique (NGT) was developed to help with group decision making by ensuring that all members participate fully. NGT is not a technique to be used at all meetings routinely. Rather, it is used to structure group meetings when members are grappling with problem solving or idea generation. It follows four steps.1Delbecq, A. L., Van de Ven, A. H., & Gustafson, D. H. (1975). Group techniques for program planning: A guide to nominal group and Delphi processes. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman. First, each member of the group engages in a period of independently and silently writing down ideas. Second, the group goes in order around the room to gather all the ideas that were generated. This goes on until all the ideas are shared. Third, a discussion takes place around each idea and members ask for and give clarification and make evaluative statements. Finally, individuals vote for their favorite ideas by using either ranking or rating techniques. Following the four-step NGT helps to ensure that all members participate fully and avoids group decision-making problems such as groupthink.
Delphi Technique is unique because it is a group process using written responses to a series of questionnaires instead of physically bringing individuals together to make a decision. The first questionnaire asks individuals to respond to a broad question, such as stating the problem, outlining objectives, or proposing solutions. Each subsequent questionnaire is built from the information gathered in the previous one. The process ends when the group reaches a consensus. Facilitators can decide whether to keep responses anonymous. This process is often used to generate best practices from experts. For example, Purdue University professor Michael Campion used this process when he was editor of the research journal Personnel Psychology and wanted to determine the qualities that distinguished a good research article. Using the Delphi Technique, he was able to gather responses from hundreds of top researchers from around the world without ever having to leave his office and distill them into a checklist of criteria that he could use to evaluate articles submitted to the journal.2Campion, M. A. (1993). Article review checklist: A criterion checklist for reviewing research articles in applied psychology. Personnel Psychology, 46, 705–718.
Majority rule refers to a decision-making rule where each member of the group is given a single vote, and the option that receives the greatest number of votes is selected. This technique has remained popular, perhaps because of its simplicity, speed, ease of use, and representational fairness. However, those who did not vote in favor of the decision will be less likely to support it.
Consensus is another decision-making rule that groups may use when the goal is to gain support for an idea or plan of action. While consensus tends to take longer in the first place, it may make sense when support is needed to enact the plan. The process works by discussing the issues, generating a proposal, calling for consensus, and discussing any concerns. If concerns still exist, the proposal is modified to accommodate them. These steps are repeated until consensus is reached. Thus, this decision-making rule is inclusive, participatory, cooperative, and democratic. Research shows that consensus can lead to better accuracy,3Roch, S. G. (2007). Why convene rater teams: An investigation of the benfits of anticipated discussion, consensus, and rater motivation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 104, 14–29. helps members feel greater satisfaction with decisions,4Mohammed, S., & Ringseis, E. (2001) Cognitive diversity and consensus in group decision making: The role of inputs, processes, and outcomes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 85, 310–335. and allows decisions to have greater acceptance. However, groups take longer with this approach and groups that cannot reach consensus become frustrated.5Peterson, R. (1999). Can you have too much of a good thing? The limits of voice for improving satisfaction with leaders. Personality and Social Psychology, 25, 313–324.
Group decision support systems (GDSS) are interactive computer-based systems that are able to combine communication and decision technologies to help groups make better decisions. Organizations know that having effective knowledge management systems to share information is important. Research shows that a GDSS can actually improve the output of group collaborative work through higher information sharing.6Lam, S. S. K., & Schaubroeck, J. (2000). Improving group decisions by better pooling information: A comparative advantage of group decision support systems. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 565–573. Organizations know that having effective knowledge management systems to share information is important, and their spending reflects this reality. As the popularity of these systems grows, they risk becoming counterproductive. Humans can only process so many ideas and information at one time. As virtual meetings grow larger, it is reasonable to assume that information overload can occur and good ideas will fall through the cracks, essentially recreating a problem that the GDSS was intended to solve that is to make sure every idea is heard. Another problem is the system possibly becoming too complicated. If the systems evolve to a point of uncomfortable complexity, it has recreated the problem of the bully pulpit and shyness. Those who understand the interface will control the narrative of the discussion, while those who are less savvy will only be along for the ride.7Nunamaker, J. F., Jr., Dennis, A. R., Valacich, J. S., Vogel, D. R., George, J. F. (1991, July). Electronic meetings to support group work. Communications of the ACM, 34(7), 40–61. Lastly, many of these programs fail to take into account the factor of human psychology. These systems could make employees more reluctant to share information due to lack of control, lack of immediate feedback, the fear of “flaming” or harsher than normal criticism, and the desire to have original information hence more power.8Babock, P. (2004, May). Shedding light on knowledge management. HR Magazine, pp. 47–50.
Decision trees are diagrams in which answers to yes or no questions lead decision makers to address additional questions until they reach the end of the tree. Decision trees are helpful in avoiding errors such as framing bias.9Wright, G., & Goodwin, P. (2002). Eliminating a framing bias by using simple instructions to “think harder” and respondents with managerial experience: Comment on “breaking the frame.” Strategic Management Journal, 23, 1059–1067. Decision trees tend to be helpful in guiding the decision maker to a predetermined alternative and ensuring consistency of decision making—that is, every time certain conditions are present, the decision maker will follow one course of action as opposed to others if the decision is made using a decision tree.
Perform a Project “Premortem” to Fix Problems Before They Happen
Doctors routinely perform postmortems to understand what went wrong with a patient who has died. The idea is for everyone to learn from the unfortunate outcome so that future patients will not meet a similar fate. But, what if you could avoid a horrible outcome before it happened by identifying project risks proactively—before your project derails? Research suggests that the simple exercise of imagining what could go wrong with a given decision can increase your ability to identify reasons for future successes or failures by 30%.10Mitchell, D. J., Russo, J., & Pennington, N. (1989). Back to the future: Temporal perspective in the explanation of events. Journal of Behaviorial Decision Making, 2, 25–38. A “premortem” is a way to imagine and to avoid what might go wrong before spending a cent or having to change course along the way.11Breen, B. (2000, August). What’s your intuition? Fast Company, 290; Klein, G. (September 2007). Performing a project premortem. Harvard Business Review, 18–19; Klein, G. (2003). The power of intuition: How to use your gut feelings to make better decisions at work. New York: Random House; Pliske, R., McCloskey, M., & Klein, G. (2001). Decision skills training: Facilitating learning from experience. In E. Salas & G. Klein (Eds.), Linking expertise and naturalistic decision making 37–53. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Gary Klein, an expert on decision making in fast-paced, uncertain, complex, and critical environments, recommends that decision makers follow this six-step premortem process to increase their chances of success:
- A planning team comes up with an outline of a plan, such as the launching of a new product.
- Either the existing group or a unique group is then told to imagine looking into a crystal ball and seeing that the new product failed miserably. They then write down all the reasons they can imagine that might have led to this failure.
- Each team member shares items from their list until all the potential problems have been identified.
- The list is reviewed for additional ideas.
- The issues are sorted into categories in the search for themes.
- The plan should then be revised to correct the flaws and avoid these potential problems.
The premortem technique allows groups to truly delve into “what if” scenarios. For example, in a premortem session at a Fortune 50 company, an executive imagined that a potential billion-dollar environmental sustainability project might fail because the CEO had retired.
Management 2020 text remixed from multiple sources under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. View a complete list of original sources.