Group decision-making occurs when a collection of people have identified or been presented with a problem and, as a collective, analyze that problem, consider possible solutions to the problem, and together select a course of action from those possible solutions to rectify the problem at hand. Such an effort can involve as few as two people and as many as eight. One may see group decision making as a literal manifestation of the old adage “Two heads are better than one.” This is most certainly the case when it comes to decision-making in the context of today’s businesses and organizations.
Given the complexity of many modern organizations, there are a variety of methods available to facilitate group decision-making; these include business task groups, management boards, committees, and participation by department, to name a few. The benefit of group decision-making is that the responsibility of determining a course of action is not left to one person; instead, a group of people share that responsibility, but this also facilitates a variety of perspectives on the problem. In order to analyze the concept of group decision-making more closely and demonstrate its particular usefulness in the context of making business choices, decisions, and problem-solving, this paper will explore the concept and will make use of the film The Social Network by way of demonstrating the concept and related ideas.
The Social Network is based on Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook – A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal. It is the story of the popular social media website Facebook which has redefined the way in which people connect and communicate in the 21st century. Facebook was created by Mark Zuckerberg while he as a sophomore at Harvard College; the role of Zuckerberg is played by Jesse Eisenberg in the film (Warren, 2010). While the film is certainly a dramatic telling of how Facebook came into being, it is also a fairly extensive look at the challenge of starting a business, making choices and decisions, dealing with problems, and how group decision-making functions in the context of those situations. The group in the film is composed of the co-founders of Facebook: Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes. The film highlights the benefits, disadvantages, and challenges associated with group deision-making with regard to a business.
Effective decision-making, whether it occurs via a single individual or through a group effort, involves five aspects of decision-making. These aspects include identifying the problem; generating and evaluating alternative solutions to the problem; deciding on a preferred course of action; implementing the decision; and evaluating the consequences of the decision (Klein, 1993). Each of these steps is important to the overall process and skipping any of them can result in problems.
The first step of the process requires the group to assess the situation at hand then identify and analyze the problem. During this stage the group gathers and processes information. This stage also involves the identification and clarification of goals relative to what the decision should accomplish. Goals can also facilitate the evaluation step; the more specific the goals are the easier it is for the group to evaluate results after the decision has been made (Shermerhorn, 2007). There are two significant points which should guide this step. The first is that the problem definition should not be too broad or too narrow. The problem should be defined in such a way that the group can develop a reasonable range of solutions from which to choose. The second is that the group needs to make sure from the beginning that the problem on which they are focused is truly a problem and not irrelevant. An example from the film is when Zuckerberg clearly identified an early problem with Facebook. There was a problem in the way information was shared; people were not connected or in control enough to effectively share and manage information. This definition of the problem gave him a good foundation for identifying a meaningful solution.
The next step in the process is to generate and evaluate alternative solutions to the problem. Shermerhorn (2007) asserts that it is necessary for clear lines regarding the problem to be drawn: “Managers must be clear on exactly what they know and what they need to know.” In other words, this stage should involve more information collecting. Sufficient information regarding the possible courses of action should be acquired and analyzed. This is the stage at which some managers use cost-benefit analysis. This type of analysis compares what an alternative will cost and what the expected benefits of its implementation will be. It is meant to determine of the course of action is truly relevant and beneficial in addressing the problem at hand in a reasonable manner. This is also the stage at which individuals who are going to be affected by the decision are identified and notified so that the effects of any possible course of action on them can be considered.
The third step in the process is the point in the process at which the preferred course of action is decided on. Effective groups usually utilize the classical decision model in making the decision. This model means that the group is fully informed about the problem and possible alternatives; the group behaves in a rational manner and selects the best course of action with an appreciation for knowing what the outcome will be. The group is aware of the consequences of their choices and takes these consequences into account when making the decision. This stage of the process reveals one of the greatest benefits of group decision-making: more perspectives and more input in the brainstorming process. Ideally this yields a course of action that will satisfy the group’s goals with maximum efficiency and benefits.
Decision implementation is the fourth step in the process. The group has made their decision; now they must make it real by putting it into action. Group members involved in the process usually have the proper skills and authority to put the decision into action, but just as decision-making goes better with multiple people so does implementation. At this stage there should be a division of labor. Group decision-making actually facilitates implementation, since when people are involved in making a decision they are more likely participate in the execution of the decision. In The Social Network Facebook’s co-founders divided the labor into coding needed programs, raising funds, and marketing their product to students at different universities. Everyone had a part to play in the implementation process.
The final step in the process is evaluating the results. Once the decision has been implemented, theoretically addressing the problem, the group should assess how well their decision solved the problem and fulfilled their goals. This requires the gathering of data again but this time with an eye for performance to determine the effectiveness of the solution.
This decision-making process is utilized by many organizations and businesses. There are two primary ways in which it is used: problem solving and strategy (Klein, 1993). In the context of problem-solving, organizations use group decision-making by forming groups that analyze and examine problems before deciding on the best course of action. This can occur in the context of short term issues and long term issues. With regard to short term issues, where problems need to be addressed immediately, group members may feel more urgency, prompting quicker but still well-developed solutions to address issues quickly and in the best way possible. With regard to long term issues, group members have more time to assess the situation and can utilize that time to more thoroughly assess the problem. This affords them more opportunities to develop strategies. For example, groups may be able to anticipate problems and develop solutions before the problems even present themselves.
In the context of strategy, groups can be used to plan and manage. Groups can be used to develop plans of action for current and future endeavors. Such groups make use of tools and resources like company records, financial statements, and Gantt charts to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities. This allows them to assess the direction in which the company is going and to establish goals for the future. They can make sure that the company’s actions align with its missions, targets, and profitability. The kinds of individuals involved in such group decision-making processes include CEOs, directors, founders, and managers – individuals higher up in the organization’s hierarchy.
Group decision-making has many strengths (Klein, 1993). One of these strengths is synergy. Synergy is essentially the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, when a group makes a decision, that decision is better than any decision the individuals within the group could have made alone (“Synergy,” 2009). Groups can produce more and better quality ideas and solutions because of the variety of perspectives. Again, Zuckerberg and his experiences with Facebook as presented in The Social Network provide an example of this. The Facebook co-founders all had different skill sets, expertise, and perspectives; this gave the group many angles and strengths when addressing problems. This gave them a competitive edge in pushing the company forward. For example, CEO Zuckerberg was a computer programmer; Saverin had expertise in finance; Moskovitz was a software engineer; and Hughes had expertise in marketing. Their shared expertise helped them make better decisions and anticipate and solve problems better together than they would have individually.
Group decision-making also offers another strength: it seems to prompt individuals into greater efforts and work in making and implementing decisions because their individual participation affords the group members with a sense of ownership for the task at hand (Klein, 1993). This ownership prompts individuals to strive harder. The co-founders of Facebook made group decisions for planning and strategy whole-heartedly because they all felt a sense of ownership since whatever they decided would affect all of them. Because they all shared in the company, they made sure to make decisions that wouldn’t affect their shared profitability.
Group decision-making also has weaknesses (Klein, 1993). One such weakness is groupthink. Groupthink is a psychological problem that occurs within a group in which the desire for harmony or conformity produces irrational or dysfunctional approaches to decision-making and the subsequent outcomes (Schermerhorn, 2007). In other words, groupthink can lead to incompetent decision-making and dysfunctional outcomes because critical evaluation did not occur, since the group members were more focused on avoiding conflict or suppressing opposing or dissenting viewpoints. This kind of behavior can be detrimental to the productivity of a group and to the organization as a whole.
Another weakness of group decision-making is that it tends to shield individuals from responsibility (Klein, 1993). Because of the shared responsibility of the process, accountability is lacking with regard to outcomes. If everybody is responsible for making the decision, no one person can be held accountable for failures. Who then takes the blame? This can cause problems.
The Social Network shows other shortcomings in group decision-making. Conflict can arise when group members don’t or can’t compromise. Zuckerberg and Saverin argued about where to base the company. Saverin would later sue Zuckerberg for control of the company, leading to an irreconcilable rift between the co-founders. This demonstrates how group decision-making can lead to conflict.
Regardless, group decision-making is and should be a very important part of the way that organizations and businesses conduct business. As this paper has demonstrated, group decision-making can lead to better, more informed decisions, synergy, and more individual effort. However, group decision-making can also lead to groupthink and the diffusion of responsibility, so effective application of the process should bear these weaknesses in mind. Unfortunately for Zuckerberg and the Facebook co-founders, they didn’t bear such weaknesses in mind, and group decision-making didn’t work out so well for them. Initially the process did work; the co-founders were able to bring together their many skills and expertise to create a multi-billion dollar company. However, the co-founders fell into conflict, with several of them leaving the company and one of them suing the company. The events of The Social Network show how power group decision-making can be in terms of problem-solving and successful strategies for growing and advancing businesses and organizations. Those events also show how if the process is not managed well, it can be detrimental to the group and the overall organization.
- Klein, G. (1993). Decision making in action: Models and methods. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex.
- Schermerhorn, J. (2007). Exploring management in modules. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
- Synergy. (2009, Nov. 12). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/14301509
- Warren, C. (2010, Sept. 28). The Social Network. Mashable. Retrieved from