Group Decisions Can Be The Wrong Decision For IT Leaders

by drjim on May 28, 2009

IT leaders Need To Know How Groups Make Decisions

IT leaders Need To Know How Groups Make Decisions

Decisions, decisions, decisions – how is an IT Leader supposed to make good ones? In our eternal quest to find a way to make good IT decisions on technologies, staff, and projects, is there a silver bullet that we can find that will show us the way?

One approach that is used by (too) many IT Leaders is to follow the crowd. I can see you shaking your head, but come on, admit it, we all like to go where everyone else is going. If you don’t believe me than look around you – what development techniques are you using (agile?), what data center changes are going on (virtualization?), what initiatives are you working on (social networking?). Maybe Jason Zweig over at the Wall Street Journal can provide some insight on group decision making.

How Do Groups Make Decisions?

Group decision making is how a lot of IT decision making gets done. Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist, over at Stanford University has spent time studying how groups make decisions. I like what he has to say – “The best groups will be better than their best individual members and the worst groups will be worse than the worst individual.”

Sutton says that the reason that groups to behave this way is because of two things. The first is that they may have a tenancy to follow a given leader in sort of a rush to conform. The other possibility is that the group will split into warring factions and won’t be able to reach any decisions.

How Can Groups Make GOOD Decisions?

Richard Larrick over at Duke University believes that in order for any IT group to be able to make good decisions, the IT Leader needs to have built the group correctly. Groups need to be built using people who have different perspectives, experiences, and who are not shy about speaking up. Of course group members also need to have those IT skills that we all value so highly: the ability to take in lots of information, filter out the important parts, and learn from any mistakes that they make.

Tips For Making Better Group Decisions

So how can an IT Leader help a group to make a good decision instead of getting tied up in knots? There’s no magic cure, but here are some suggestions on what can be done to improve your odds of getting good decisions out of your groups:

  • Measure Success: Use the collective knowledge of the group to clearly define how a decision’s success should be measured. Starting at the end helps to make better decisions.
  • Use Numbers Carefully: Groups like to use facts and statistics when making decisions. However, you need to use this kind of data to rank your options. Then the group needs to do additional research and find out what’s really going on. Then create another list of ranked solutions. Average them out and you’ll have a balanced decision.
  • Reframing: When a group is charged with trying to answer a big question (“should we close our data centers”), use the power of multiple people to take both sides of the argument (“close” vs. “don’t close”) and have them build cases for their position. This will provid you with your best chance of seeing all sides of the question.

Final Thoughts On Group Decisions

Most IT Leaders would like to be thought of as bold decision makers who are never wrong. The reality is that sometimes a group really is needed in order to fully understand difficult questions. Building the group correctly and making sure that they know how to reach good decisions is part of what it takes to be a good IT Leader.

Questions For You

Have you ever had to build a group to study a problem? Did you do a good job of selecting the right people? Have you ever been on a group that was trying to solve a problem? Did you look at all sides of the problem or did you rush to make a decision? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

What We’ll Talk About Next Time

Did you even know that something called an “Non-compete Clause” existed? It turns out that you may have signed one when you started your current job (it differs from company to company). This piece of paper basically spells out the legal agreement between you and the company – they want you to stay and they want to scare you into not leaving…

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