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Six steps for making good group decisions

This is an excerpt from Group Dynamics in Recreation and Leisure by Timothy O'Connell & Brent Cuthbertson.

Ahmed and Kristen are cocaptains of a coed recreational league basketball team. The team is down by two points with three seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter. The winner of the game moves on to the next round of the play-offs. The team has taken a time-out to decide what to do in the last three seconds. The team's center, Mary, has been successful scoring from close to the basket all night. Ahmed thinks they should get the ball to Mary and go for the tie. Kristen thinks they should go for the win and pass the ball to Brady, who has been sinking three-pointers all night. How will the team figure out which strategy to use?

As individuals, people make hundreds of decisions every day. While working with groups, the number of decisions people make expands exponentially. Both the individual members in the group and the group as a whole are making decisions. Think about the first decision people make each day. That decision probably was influenced by one of the last decisions made the day before-what time to get up! As simple as it may be, choosing what time to wake up immediately affects the rest of an individual's day. If a person decides to get up early, she has time for a cup of coffee and a glance at the newspaper before going to work. If she gets up late, however, she does not have time to read in the newspaper that the bridge she normally crosses on her bike ride to work has just been closed for repairs. So she ends up being late for an important meeting. Even a seemingly straightforward decision like choosing what time to get up follows a general six-step process. This process is outlined in figure 6.2.

Often, the first step in the decision-making process is getting oriented with the decision, while the second step identifies factors surrounding the decision. Through these processes, individuals or groups can determine the nature of the decision, issue, or problem to the best of their ability. At this point, it is in the best interest of the group members to be sure they have adequately defined the decision to be made or problem at hand. Ahmed and Kristen have identified and defined the decision to be made-should they go inside for the tie or shoot the three-pointer for the win?

There are three considerations in these first two stages of the decision-making process. First, the group members need to agree on where they are and where they would like to be. This is the difference between reality and a desired situation. Second, the group needs to get information that is timely and relevant to the decision to be made. The group should consider

• who has an issue,

• what is the issue,

• when the issue is a concern,

• where the issue happens,

• why the issue happens, and

• how the issue came about.

Finally, the group members must buy into the process through discussing the difference between where the group is and where it wants to be. A simple yet effective technique is to conduct a simple cost-benefit analysis of what is known about the issue. The group can identify the costs and benefits associated with the issue and determine how to increase the benefits while minimizing the costs. Through this discussion individuals and the group as a whole become committed to making the decision. Professionals may help groups through this stage of the process by encouraging a reasoned approach to identifying and defining the decision. Many groups move through the first two stages rapidly, and the rush to implement a decision affects the quality and effectiveness of the final outcomes. For Ahmed and Kristen, the cost is losing the game and the benefit is winning and continuing in the play-offs.

The third stage is identifying and evaluating alternative courses of action. Using the clearly defined and articulated issues from the previous stages, the group generates a list of potential decisions. There are four traps that groups might fall into during this stage of the decision-making process:1. The group might not have the appropriate skills or knowledge to identify or evaluate the alternatives.

2. The group may not have an established way to go about identifying and evaluating different choices.

3. The group may pressure individual members who possess knowledge or skills that would improve the assessment of the alternatives to conform to what the rest of the group is doing.

4. The group may fail to identify all possible alternatives.

Another pitfall is that some alternatives may be discarded early in the process when they should be considered on equal footing with all the choices the group is mulling over. All of these pitfalls may be avoided by proper training, access to information, and good group communication and listening skills. Professionals may help groups avoid pitfalls by providing unbiased leadership, by encouraging open and free debate, by asking outside specialists in the area for help, or by playing the devil's advocate for each of the group's proposed courses of action.

Ahmed and Kristen have identified two alternatives: go inside to Mary or go outside to Brady. There might be other plans of action, but because Mary and Brady have been successful at scoring from their prospective positions, they are the best alternatives from which to choose.

The fourth step in the decision-making process is choosing one of the alternatives to implement and will affect the group's acceptance and support of the final course of action. If the group members feel they have been part of the process and that each individual's opinions have been considered, then the group will be more apt to buy into the final decision. If the group members feel discounted or that individuals have been overlooked or marginalized, they may not support the final course of action. Ahmed and Kristen decide to get the ball to the outside to Brady and go for the win. Some of the team members turn away in disappointment when they hear the decision, while others are excited by the do-or-die events about to take place.

The fifth stage is implementing the decision. This may involve all the group members, selected group members, or one group member. As mentioned earlier, when individuals and groups feel as though they have been part of the decision-making process, they are more likely to implement the decision and perform better in conditions created by the decision. Ahmed and Kristen call for a screen in which Brady gets the ball at the top of the key for a three-point shot.In the sixth and final stage of the decision-making process, the outcomes of the decision should be evaluated. There are two parts to this process. First, the group should determine whether the decision was implemented the way it was meant to be (or if it wasn't, what made the way in which it was implemented successful or unsuccessful). Second, the group should figure out if the outcomes of the decision were what they were intended to be. For Ahmed and Kristen, the outcome is pretty clear-Brady sinks the three-pointer and the team wins! When evaluating the outcomes, the main question the group should ask is whether the position it landed in as a result of implementing the decided course of action (the actual state) is closer to or farther away from where it wants to be (the desired state). Table 6.1 shows the findings that are possible when evaluating the process and outcomes of a decision.

Ultimately, the group should learn from each of the decisions it makes. If the group is happy with how it went about making and implementing the decision and if the outcomes move the group closer to a state it desires, then the group should continue using that method of decision making in the future. How can a group go about making decisions? The next section introduces several common decision-making techniques.

This is an excerpt from Group Dynamics in Recreation and Leisure: Creating Conscious Groups Through an Experiential Approach.

More Excerpts From Group Dynamics in Recreation and Leisure