Is “Group Decision” an Oxymoron in Your Organization?

As leader you need to avoid unanimous agreement at all costs!


Picture this all-too-common scenario:

A hard-charging CEO calls a meeting of his senior management team. As the managers assemble the head honcho starts in:

“Last night I came up with a brilliant idea that will increase our market share by at least 5 percent, blah, blah, blah …” and with that he proceeds to pontificate for the next 20 minutes. When he finally finishes he states, “Okay, now I’d like to hear from you.”


Not surprisingly, nobody says a word because no one actually believes he wants to hear even the most tentative counterargument.

This scenario is not uncommon. If this CEO wasn’t interested in tapping the group’s insight (which he wasn’t), he would have saved everyone a lot of time and bother by just announcing his decision. What’s usually going on in situations like this is that the “big cheese” was merely seeking the pseudo impression of a group decision, and if things go drastically wrong there are plenty of heads to roll … after all, everyone “agreed”!

It’s difficult to get a man to disagree with something when his salary depends on his agreeing with it. ~ Upton Sinclair

What’s the Purpose of a Group Decision?

It should be based on the premise that “none of us is as smart as all of us.” The goal is to draw out the best that each member of the group has to offer.

Drawing Out the Best

The first step is to clarify the objectives, assumptions and desired result.

Once the objectives are clear, everyone in the group should work on the problem independently (even if only for a few minutes) to encourage unconventional, open-minded thoughts and ideas.

Before group discussion begins, the group leader should collect these insights to avoid premature consensus and the other contaminants of groupthink.

To make a “good” group decision, the group leader needs the COURAGE to seek disagreement

If a group decision begins and ends with acclamation, then your decision-making process is seriously flawed; and the result is nothing but a gambler’s throw of the dice no matter how much discussion it fosters.

The first rule in “group” decision making is that a decision should not be made unless there IS disagreement.


Alfred Sloan, the longtime CEO and chairman of General Motors, once interrupted a committee meeting with a query:

“Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.” Everyone around the table nodded in assent. “Then,” continued Mr. Sloan, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what this decision is all about.”


Sloan was anything but an “intuitive” decision-maker (you never want to be that).

He emphasized the need to test opinions against facts and the need to make absolutely sure that one did not start out with the conclusion and then look for the facts that would support it. He knew that the right decision demands adequate disagreement.

Beware of Framed Thinking

In any group discussion, one should automatically assume that everyone has framed the problem and solution (innocently enough) within their own particular viewpoint. For example, in a corporate setting one could assume that the marketing group will view the solution through the lens of advertising and promotion, the sales group will see the problem and solution through added promotions and support programs, the manufacturing factions will see things from the perspective of products and product development and so on.

The only way to safeguard against framed thinking is through disagreement. The discussion needs to be argued, reasoned, documented and thought through.

A good decision-maker, above all, is a “truth seeker”, one who is willing to listen, reconsider, and be persuaded by a good argument. At the same time, a good decision-maker needs to justify his or her final decision by the same measure — sharing not just the choice made, but the reasons for that choice.

Abiding by the Decision

If the group decision was founded on proper principles and structure, then everyone was encouraged to offer their ideas without ridicule and criticism. It means there was a spirited discussion around a variety of opinions and alternatives. Once a group decision is made, however, everyone is obligated to commit to following it. That’s the price you pay for having a voice in the decisional process.

It’s far too common for “group decision” to be an oxymoron, but it shouldn’t be, if for no other reason than this … none of us is as smart as all of us.


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