How to make good group decisions

This report brings together simple, accessible tips to help organisations become more collectively intelligent and make better group decisions. From idea generation to evaluation, it describes how each stage of the decision making process can be optimised to make the most of the skills in the team and beyond.

The report has five sections that cover different dimensions of group decisions: group composition, group dynamics, the decision making process, the decision rule and uncertainty.

In each section, we describe common pitfalls of group decisions alongside the practical ‘tactics’ for overcoming them. The tactics draw on evidence from a range of disciplines including management studies, computer science, social science and psychology, as well as behavioural insights. We initially carried out this rapid review to help Nesta explore how we might make our own decision-making processes and meetings as effective as possible.

Although originally intended for internal use, we are sharing what we have learnt in case others might also find the insights useful. We created it as a resource for managers (and their teams!) in the public sector, social enterprises, charities and foundations. It can help managers make the most of the talent in their teams, and tap into the diversity of experience, information and skills both within and external to their organisations.

The changes to decision making don’t have to be overwhelming – it’s possible to start small.

Key takeaways:

  1. Diversity is the most important factor for a group’s collective intelligence. Both identity and functional (e.g. different skills and experience levels) diversity are necessary for better problem solving and decision making.
  2. Increasing the size of the decision making group can help to increase diversity, skills and creativity. Organisations could be much better at leveraging the wisdom of the crowd for certain tasks such as idea generation, prioritisation of options (especially eliminating bad options), and accurate forecasts.
  3. A quick win for decision makers is to focus on developing cross-cutting skills within teams. Important skills to train in your teams include probabilistic reasoning to improve risk analysis, cognitive flexibility to make full use of available information and perspective taking to correct for assumptions..
  4. It’s not always efficient for groups to push themselves to find the optimal solution or group consensus, and in many cases they don’t need to. ‘Satisficing’ helps to maintain quality under pressure by agreeing in advance what is ‘good enough’.
  5. Introducing intermittent breaks where group members work independently is known to improve problem solving for complex tasks. The best performing teams tend to have periods of intense communication with little or no interaction in between.
  6. When the external world is unstable, like during a financial crisis or political elections, traditional sources of expertise often fail due to overconfidence. This is when novel data and insights gathered through crowdsourcing or collective intelligence methods that capture frontline experience are most important.
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Authors

Aleks Berditchevskaia

Aleks Berditchevskaia

Aleks Berditchevskaia

Principal Researcher, Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Aleks Berditchevskaia is the Principal Researcher at Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design.

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Camilla Bertoncin

Camilla Bertoncin

Camilla Bertoncin

Project Manager and Researcher

Camilla is a Project Manager and Researcher working in the Explorations team on the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design.

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