Group Decision-Making

Group decision-making is an activity that is based on the old adage that “two heads are better than one”. It permits the coming together of people with heterogeneous characteristics who can understand the problems in a better way and hence, develop creative alternatives leading to effective group performance. Most decisions in organizations, no wonder, are made in a group context only. However, group decision making is different in process and outcome from decision-making done by individuals in the following ways:


1.         Conformity. Norms are established by a group as a means of achieving its goals. Over a period of time these norms become standards of conduct accepted by participants in a small group. A group tries to enforce these norms ruthlessly and norm violators are punished in many ways. No wonder, decisions in groups move toward conformity. This point is well supported by research evidence. Solomon Asch brought together groups (of seven or eight people) consisting of one unsuspecting subject (USS) and other subjects who were actually participating to help the experimenter. In the experiment two cards were shows to the participants in which one card had one line and the other had three lines of varying length, one of which was identical to the length of the line of the first card. As such coached the confederates to provide the wrong answer unanimously. Only the USS was unaware that the experiments, As such found that subjects conformed in about 35 percent of the trials. In other words, the subjects provided answers that they knew were wrong but that were consistent with the answers of other group members.


2.          Superiority. The commonsense adage “Two heads are better than one” derives is strength from many sources. Groups have important problem solving abilities. A group, with its faculty drawn from many disciplines, has got the capacity to generate more ideas than individuals. Groups “have better learning and recall, make fewer mistakes and detect mistakes quicker. Group forecasting and judgment likely is more accurate”. Heterogeneous people with characteristics can bring a greater amount of information and expertise to bear on a problem, generate more creative alternative solutions and make it more likely that the solution will be understood, accepted and implemented. A number of studies support the view that groups are superior to individuals in problem solving. After reviewing the literature in this area, B.J. Kolas concluded thus “the preponderance of expert opinion is in favor of superiority of the group in problem solving pelformance”.


3.         Risky shift. The average risk-taking score tends to be higher in groups. There is considerable evidence to show that in some situations, groups make riskier decisions than individuals. Why do groups make riskier decisions than individuals? Four explanations can be offered: (1) Taking moderate risks is something that is highly rated in our society. Moderate risk has a strong cultural value than caution. (2) Risk taking offers an opportunity for a group member to become the leader. Dominant and influential members generally occupy the leadership ‘berths’ in a group. (3) Groups are able to share information in an open environment. Members become more familiar with the problem being discussed. Initially they encourage cautions, go slow tactics and once the problem is familiarized, they are willing to take adventurous risky decisions. (4) If a project adopted by a group fails, back passing is easy and no one individual can be held wholly responsible. Group decisions dilute and thin out responsibility. So whenever managers are forced to solve knotty problems these are turned over to groups.


30.6.1 Assets and Liabilities of Group Problem Solving and Decision-Making


Every group brings to the problem-solving task some assets and some liabilities. If the assets are utilized and the liabilities avoided, groups are better decision-making units than individuals. According to Maier, the decision-making assets of the group are :


1.         Greater knowledge and information. A group has more information than an individual. Because many individuals are involved, more data and information can be brought to bear on the decision. The group provides specialized inputs in defining variables and suggests alternatives that the manager acting alone would be unlikely to come up with. The tremendous amount of information and knowledge so generated might help in improved decision-making.


2.         More approaches to a problem. A group can bring to bear a wider experience, a greater variety of opinion and a more thorough probing of facts than a single individual. Members not only bring new information to the problem but also generate more alternative solutions. “Since group members do not have identical approaches, each can contribute by knocking others out of ruts of thinking”.


3.         Increased acceptance. Participation in decision-making and problem-solving increases acceptance and commitment. Many studies have shown that when participation is given, people see the solution as ‘their own’ and acquire a psychological stake in its success.


4.         Better comprehension of the decision. When a manager makes a decision individually he must relay it to those who carry it out. Failure to implement decisions effectively can often be traced to garbled communication. When those who must execute the decision have participated in making it, the chance of communication failure is reduced. People understand the decision better because they saw and heard it develop.


30.6.2 Decision Making Liabilities


1.         Time consuming. Groups are notorious time wasters. In the meetings, minutes are taken but hours are wasted. The time spend in discussion, quite often, within committee may exceed the importance of the issue itself.


2.         Pressures to conform. Groups create pressures toward conformity. Other infirmities like group think attack work groups and prevent them from being more effective. A clubby feeling of ‘we-ness’ compels members to become chummy and compromise on the first satisfying decision that emerges. The final decision may be so extremely watered down or ‘compromised to death’ that the horse does not tum out to be camel. The decision arrived at may not be satisfactory to anyone.


3.         Individual domination. Group members are not as alike as peas in a pod. In many groups a dominant individual emerges and slices out more than his share of influence on the outcomes, even though his problem-solving ability may be poor. Thus quite a good number of decision arrived at in group meetings are in fact product of excessive compromise, logrolling and one-person domination. Domination is counterproductive; it puts a damper on the group’s best problem solvers.


4.         Conflicting alternative solutions. When groups are confronted with a problem, the major goal is to obtain the best possible solution. But as alternative solutions are put Group forward, group members may begin to view and defend their own from a ‘win or lose’ standpoint, instead of examine objectively the merit of each. The clash of ideas that develops in a group can breed resentment and hurt feelings.


5.        The problem of responsibility. The group is composed of several individuals and hence, it is easy to pass the buck in decision-making. Moreover, by spreading the responsibility for a decision, groups can occasionally come up with ill-conceived or irresponsible conclusions.