A lot of advice about decision making seems to assume that it’s a solo job. In reality, we’re often working side by side with others. While it may be faster to act alone, we often get better results when others participate, too.
Of course, there are exceptions. Sometimes we may have all the expertise we need or we may need to make our minds up so fast that consultation is impossible.
Still, it’s good to be prepared for those complex decisions, both at home and work, that require more than one head. Let this guide help you successfully navigate the process.
Benefits of Collective Decisions
1. Make better choices. Acting as a team enables us to transcend our personal limitations. It’s inspiring to see how often a crowd outperforms experts even when it comes to something as simple as guessing how many jelly beans are in a jar.
2. Promote equity. The things we do often affect those around us. Inviting more people into the process allows their perspectives to be taken into account.
3. Spark creativity. Additional players contribute more ideas. Enjoy having a wider range of options to choose from.
4. Strengthen outcomes. People demonstrate a higher commitment to implementing solutions that they helped to design.
General Principles for Joint Decision-Making
1. Time it right. Teamwork is challenging. Rehearse with minor projects first. Pick a time when things are relatively calm. Expect the process to speed up as team members become more familiar with reaching decisions together.
2. Be specific. Define your goals clearly. Redirect the discussion if it wanders off track. Tackle one issue at a time.
3. Advance common goals. Identify areas of common ground. Focus on what you’re trying to accomplish together.
4. Open up. Encourage everyone to speak their mind. Greet innovative proposals with curiosity rather than fault finding.
5. Listen carefully. Pay careful attention to what others are saying. Ask questions to ensure genuine understanding.
6. Set aside hidden agendas. Our intentions often reveal themselves regardless of the words we use. Check your attitude to ensure it’s sincere and collaborative.
- Prioritize relationships. There are times when you’ll care more about your connection with a person than any specific result. For example, maintaining your child’s trust outweighs winning an argument over curfews on school nights.
- Provide anonymity. In certain situations, it can be advantageous to present information without knowing who said it. That’s true if a group is deeply divided or so close that they may put short term unity ahead of their long term wellbeing.
- Enlist professional help. Businesses sometimes call in facilitators to overcome obstacles to communications. Similarly, couples may benefit from working with a therapist to learn more constructive ways of interacting.
- Consider individual differences. Group dynamics can grow complicated due to differences in status, power, or personality. Senior managers may need to assure other employees that their ideas are welcome. Couples may need to find more balance if one partner tends to make most of the decisions about spending or child care.
- Select the appropriate vehicle. Collective decision making takes many forms. Figure out if you want a final authority to have the last word after a group discussion or if you want to put a question to a majority vote. Sometimes you may seek unanimity and sometimes you may work towards consensus.
Like everything, group decision making skills get better with practice. Strengthen your relationships at home and work while you develop more effective solutions to the issues you typically face.