How to make a group decision

Making group decisions can be challenging, as it requires bringing together different perspectives, opinions, and approaches. Here are some steps that can help ensure that group decisions are made in a fair and effective manner:

  1. Define the decision to be made: Clearly articulate the problem or decision that needs to be made. This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and has a shared understanding of the issue.
  2. Involve the right people: Ensure that all relevant stakeholders are included in the decision-making process. This will help to ensure that all perspectives are considered and that the final decision is representative of the group as a whole.
  3. Encourage open communication: Encourage open communication and active listening among group members. This will help to create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration, and it will ensure that everyone's opinions are heard.
  4. Use structured decision making methods: Utilize structured decision-making methods, such as consensus building, voting, or a modified Delphi method where people individually assess, collectively discuss, then individually assess again, to help make the decision.
  5. Consider trade-offs: Be willing to consider trade-offs and compromises in order to reach a decision that is in the best interest of the group as a whole.
  6. Document the decision: Document the final decision, along with the reasoning behind it, in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to provide a reference for future decision making.

There are many times when not everyone has the same decision rights. In this situation, we adopt Eric Pliner’s 4V structure—view, voice, vote, veto. There is a difference between offering stakeholders the opportunity to share a view, have a voice, cast a vote, or exercise a veto. Have everyone know what they are being offered before the decision is made.

Achieving a coherent vision might need to go to a vote. Some decisions about the most complex technology of our time—the internet—are made by humming.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) community rejects authority yet has to make decisions. Rather than formal voting, humming has unique advantages over traditional consensus taking such as a show of hands. Often discussions take time. The Chair might decide there is a rough consensus and hum helps them to hear whether there are actually two groups bickering, or whether this is actually one person riding their hobby horse.

Internet standards are built on dissent and debate. When there is only a small minority of people who hum for or against a proposal, the sound is diffuse which offers a level of anonymity. Niels ten Oever, who researches the hidden powers of Internet infrastructure at the University of Amsterdam, explains why this is important. “This anonymity is important because engineers do not represent their employer at the IETF but are individual contributors. The hum allows engineers to use their voice against their employer’s position, without having it registered for their employer to see.”

Humming has become an important ritual for this group. Gillian Tett explains that the humming ritual operates on two levels. One is that the group is expressing their worldview that the internet should remain egalitarian and inclusive. The other is that, even in a world of data and machines, human connection matters.

Another way to conceptualize a group decision is by considering the different ways to deliberate before deciding. You can consider this in a matrix form:

  • We discuss, I decide
  • We discuss, You decide
  • We discuss, We decide
  • You discuss, I decide
  • You discuss, You decide
  • You discuss, We decide