New Hong Kong Study: Enhancing Group Decisions: Beyond Strict-Unanimity and Roberts Rules (by Shahla Ali)

[Working Paper Series, Vol 1, January 2010]

At present challenge in many organizations is the question of how best to structure decision making processes.  The choice is often presented as a dichotomy: aim for unanimity and risk deadlock or apply Roberts Rules and risk the tyranny of majority.  Such options often appear to be irreconcilable.  While each approach has proven benefits: unanimity does encourage a solution oriented approach, while majority vote provides for a guaranteed decision, the question is, are such benefits in fact inconsistent?

In a small scale experiment in Hong Kong involving four teams composed of five individuals each, preliminary findings indicated that decision making rules do affect quality and efficacy of group decision making outcome.  Rules which aim for unanimity but provide for the possibility of majority vote resulted in more nuanced decisions and resulted in an ultimate outcome.  Rules which required strict unanimity resulted in uni-dimensional outcomes and reported deadlock when the stakes increased.  While unanimous decisions often represent the ideal outcome of a decision making process, and reflect solution oriented approach,[1] such aspirations are not inconsistent with a process which aims for consensus but allows for majority vote in the event that deadlock has been reached.

In the small scale study, each of the four teams represented a board of directors composed of five individuals.  Each individual had a particular preference regarding what to do with a company’s profit of $1,000 for the year.  These included: spend, save, invest, distribute to employees and give to charity.

The first two groups, which aimed for unanimity but had the possibility of using majority vote in case of deadlock, arrived at multi-faceted outcomes and were able to reach an ultimate decision.  Such decisions included multifaceted outcomes: For group 1 the result was to split the money three ways between: saving, training staff, and rewarding employees. For group 2, the result was similarly nuanced:  $200 to invest in human capital, $200 to give to charity, and $600 for technological investment.   Those operating on the basis of strict unanimity arrived at generally more uni-dimensional outcomes and reported a deadlock when the stakes of the decision increased.  The decisions for group 3 was to put the entire $1,000 toward savings, while group 4 split the amount in half between giving to charity and giving to employees.  When asked whether the decision would be the same if the companies profit increased to 1 million, both groups operating on the basis of unanimity reported deadlock.

The preliminary findings of this study indicate that while unanimous decisions often represent the ideal outcome of a decision making process, and reflect solution oriented approach,[2] such aspirations are not inconsistent with a process which aims for consensus but allows for majority vote in the event that deadlock has been reached.


[1] See: Rob Sandelin. “Consensus Basics, Ingredients of successful consensus process”. Northwest Intentional Communities Association guide to consensus. Northwest Intentional Communities Association. Retrieved 2007-01-17; and Dressler, L. (2006). Consensus Through Conversation How to Achieve High-Commitment decisions. Berkeley, CA:Berrett-Koehler.

 

[2] See: Rob Sandelin. “Consensus Basics, Ingredients of successful consensus process”. Northwest Intentional Communities Association guide to consensus. Northwest Intentional Communities Association. Retrieved 2007-01-17; and Dressler, L. (2006). Consensus Through Conversation How to Achieve High-Commitment decisions. Berkeley, CA:Berrett-Koehler.

Advertisements