Group decision-making: 9 frameworks for success

Written by 
David Young
July 7, 2023
A group of colleagues gathered around a table in a meeting room
Group decision-making: 9 frameworks for success
Written by 
David Young
July 7, 2023
Get frameworks to help your team improve group decision-making that leads to better results, increased productivity, and better alignment.

Problem-solving as part of a group is something most people tend to either love or hate. 

When done well, group decision-making can help teams dig deeper into challenges, unearth creative solutions, and reach a consensus that makes everyone happy. 

But, as with any team activity, reaching a decision as a group can come with its own set of challenges. It can be time-consuming for a group to agree on a decision. Some members of the group may even feel like they’re doing an unequal portion of the work. And of course, there’s always the ever-present threat of groupthink.

If it’s working well though, few will dispute how effective group decision-making can be. So let’s quickly take this activity apart, then explore some ways you can make sure of its success.

What is group decision-making?

Group decision-making is when several people (typically three or more) get together to discuss a problem, come up with and explore different possible solutions, and eventually reach some sort of alignment on what the next steps should be. 

The primary idea behind group decision-making is that, by exposing a problem to a variety of viewpoints and experiences to a group of people, you'll come up with more thoughtful and innovative ideas

In fact, research backs this up. Studies have consistently shown that the greater the diversity within groups responsible for making decisions, the better these decisions are for their company’s financial performance.

Why is decision-making as a group important?

The short answer is that group-decision making will typically give you better results than you’d be able to produce on your own, while generating greater consensus. But let’s break down the benefits of the group decision-making process even more:

  • It leverages collective knowledge. No one can be an expert in everything, but put a few people in the same room together and your cumulative knowledge will add up. This diversity of viewpoints, experience, and expertise can help you uncover new insights and lead to better decisions and more creative ideas.
  • It takes advantage of dissent. The more people who are involved, the harder you’ll have to work for consensus — and that can be a good thing. Through the act of addressing every person’s objections, you’ll uncover possible weaknesses in your decision-making, reduce the likelihood of errors, and identify potential biases, all of which will produce better outcomes.
  • It's more comprehensive. Especially regarding complex or challenging problems, it'll pay to have as many people thinking it through as possible. This will allow you to break it apart and analyze different aspects of it‌, helping you to identify risks and opportunities that you may have otherwise missed.
  • It builds relationships. The opportunity to work together and solve a problem can be a great way to forge closer relationships between group members. They’ll have to listen to each other’s opinions, rely on each other’s expertise, and trust each other in order to be productive and accomplish anything. And that kind of teamwork will bring them closer.
  • It increases buy-in. Similar to the above, by having the opportunity to directly work on a problem and help the larger team come up with a solution, those involved will be more likely to support the outcome. They aren’t just accepting a decision made from high up. Instead, they’re contributing their own opinions and concerns. This will help reduce any possible resistance and help make implementation a success.

7 group decision-making frameworks to unlock team productivity

Getting a group together to make a decision can be as simple as sitting down in the same room. But it can also help to have some group decision-making techniques to get everyone comfortable and the ideas flowing. Here are a few of our favorites. 

Explore these frameworks and choose the one that best fits the type of decision your team needs to make.

1. Brainstorming ideas and solutions

Brainstorming sessions are something that everyone has probably done at least once — and for good reason. They’re an easy and accessible way to start coming up with ideas. But not all brainstorming sessions are equal. There’s a big difference between simply asking people to come up with ideas and actually taking the time to provide that everyone is comfortable sharing their various perspectives, experiences, and ideas.

Pro-tip: Group leaders can create some brainstorming ground rules with the team to set expectations and agree on the group dynamics for the brainstorming session.

To help shortcut your way to an effective session, our brainstorming template breaks down the process into a series of effective steps, each designed to foster productivity and inclusivity. For instance, after an initial step that sets expectations for the session, you’ll move into a timed “solo brainstorm” activity so that people can freely come up with their own ideas. 

After the solo brainstorm, you’ll move back together into a more traditional group setting before putting the best ideas to a vote to decide on the best solution. Even for those who may not like group decision-making activities, this template can help make reaching a collective decision with your team pain-free.

2. SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis is a classic technique for breaking apart a product or project according to its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. In doing so, the SWOT approach can help make even the most unapproachable problems much more accessible. It can also create a path forward for setting clear and actionable objectives.

The SWOT Analysis template by Mural
Get started with the free SWOT analysis template from Mural

To begin, clearly define what you are analyzing. Write it out in a sentence or two to make sure there’s alignment. Then go through each quadrant and brainstorm different ideas. Using our SWOT analysis template, you can either do this in real-time with your decision-makers or send out a link for them to do asynchronously — or both. You can also keep the board running over the length of your project so that members can continuously add to it and assess the project as it evolves. 

Pro-tip: While we’re strong advocates of leveraging teamwork to solve problems, a SWOT analysis is a good activity for individual decision-making too.

3. Decision tree

Sometimes all you need is a good visual to help you arrive at the best possible decision. Our decision tree template can help you do just that by making it easy to visualize how all your various choices will play out, including the decisions you’ll likely have to make afterwards and their implications. This will help improve your understanding of the issue at hand, make it easier to manage risks, and save time.

Like with your SWOT analysis, you should start by first clearly defining the decision(s) that you have to make with your stakeholders. Ensuring full alignment at the outset is key to success. Once you’ve done this, you can start adding in all the possible choices you could make.

With the template, you can easily draw lines or arrows between the initial decision and these choices so that your team can see their relationship. From there, you can start coming up with how these various choices proceed, brainstorming their outcomes and consequences. The result will give you your best path to success and help you explore alternative solutions.

4. Affinity Diagram

Ever been overwhelmed with the amount of data you’ve collected on a project — so much so you don’t even know where to start? Then the affinity clustering template is made for you. 

The Affinity Diagram template by Mural
Get started with Mural's Affinity Diagram template

Affinity diagrams are a design thinking method based around patterns. By sorting items based on similarities, you can uncover commonalities and reveal patterns you may not have been able to see otherwise. And that can make your decision-making process a whole lot easier.

The process is fairly simple. Just add all your relevant data to the template. Typically, this will take the form of sticky notes. Then gather your team members and start grouping each data point into different clusters, organized by theme. Eventually, you should start to see certain patterns emerge in your groupings. Use that information to make your next decision.

5. Importance / Difficulty Matrix

Sometimes, you may have too many different projects or problems to keep track of at once. Or maybe your team just can’t agree on what needs to be prioritized. 

This is where the importance/difficulty matrix template comes in. 

The Importance/Difficulty Matrix template by Mural
The Importance/Difficulty Matrix template helps teams quickly plot ideas by importance and difficulty

By providing you with a simple chart for plotting items by relative importance and difficulty, you can quickly (and objectively) rank items to get aligned on what your team should work on next.

This matrix is ideal for batches of 10 to 15 different projects. So if you have more than that, you may need to have a larger discussion with your team about narrowing them down. Once you’ve done that, all you have to do is start mapping each project according to its importance (high vs. low impact) and difficulty (again, high vs. low). Try to avoid just dragging and dropping each item, though. Make sure you discuss and debate all of them to make sure every person’s voice is heard. That way, you’ll be able to accurately place each project on the matrix.

6. Buy A Feature

In the real world, projects, features, problems, and really anything you’d like to prioritize all take resources to accomplish. And those resources are limited. If you choose to focus on one over another, then you’ll have less time, money, or energy to dedicate to the rest. 

This is exactly what the buy-a-feature template allows you to simulate. In doing so, it can help reveal what's really most important to your team.

The way it works is by gamifying the experience of choosing what to prioritize. As the facilitator, you should begin by defining your problem or project, then building out a list of features, ideas, solutions, or anything else that your team will have to choose. With this in hand, you assign each one a monetary value based on their difficulty, and give each member or stakeholder a limited amount of money to spend. Then the fun begins. As they pick what they want to spend their money on, their true choices should quickly reveal itself. In the end, you should be able to see what they value most.

7. Prioritization Matrix

This framework builds and expands on the importance/difficulty matrix described above. But, instead of just measuring ideas and projects against their difficulty and importance, it gives participants the freedom to choose what criteria they want to use. 

For instance, you could consider risk vs. benefits, or timeline vs. budget. Alternatively, you could use this prioritization template to place the same project across multiple 2x2 grids, helping you visualize it across several criteria at once.

As usual, define your problem or opportunity. Then, instead of immediately moving to assessment, take some time to identify which criteria your team wants to use to evaluate your options. Once this is done, take some potential options that could address this problem and start measuring them against the criteria you’ve chosen. The result should be a comprehensive view into how multiple options will affect your problem, allowing you to make an informed final decision.

8. The stepladder technique

The stepladder technique is a brainstorming and decision-making method that brings in more team members to provide input as the exercise goes on. Designed to encourage participation from all members of a group, the stepladder technique is a natural hedge against the impacts of conformity and groupthink in working groups.

You begin by having a group of two team members discussing solutions to a problem. Then, you add one person at a time until everyone has a chance to share their thoughts. Then, the group decides on a solution.

9. Pros and cons list

Although it seems simple, a quick pros and cons list can help your team quickly identify the main advantages and disadvantages of a decision before holding a vote. It ensures that everyone's input is considered, and it can lead to better choices because you've carefully thought about the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Begin by identifying the decision that needs to be made and each key option to choose from. Next, brainstorm with your team and create a list of advantages (pros) and disadvantages (cons) for each decision. After listing the pros and cons, talk about each one. This is where the group can have a conversation about the reasons why an idea might be a good choice and the reasons why it might not be. This discussion helps everyone understand the options better. After discussing and considering all the pros and cons, you can now make a well-informed decision.

Mural also has a straightforward pros and cons list template that makes it easy for your team to quickly discuss and make a decision.

4 Tips to take your group decision-making to the next level

The above frameworks will all help level up your group decision-making capabilities, but it doesn’t have to end there. Here are a few more tips you can employ to make sure you’re getting the most out of your next group session:

  • Anonymous voting: It can be intimidating for many people to voice their opinions in group settings, especially if they’re not used to it. Anonymous voting is an easy way to get people to weigh in with their true feelings while feeling safe in doing so.
  • Asynchronous work: In this day and age, there’s no reason you have to have everyone in the same room (or video call) at the same time. One of the best advantages of online whiteboards like Mural is that they work just as well long before and long after a group meeting, letting people do their work ahead and continue contributing as they come up with new ideas — all on their own schedule.
  • Involve only important stakeholders: Involving absolutely everyone you can think of may be democratic, but it’s probably not very efficient. Instead, take some time before your group decision-making session to evaluate which stakeholders have the largest impact on the project or problem. Those are the voices you’ll want to hear from.
  • Assign a devil’s advocate: Groupthink is one of the greatest enemies of group decision-making. But by simply giving someone the job of challenging group assumptions, pointing out opposing sides, and making sure the status quo must always defend itself in group discussions, you can help make sure every decision is made on solid ground.

Productive teams are better at decision-making

Knowing how to come together as a group, fairly evaluate all of your options, and arrive at an informed consensus decision is an essential skill for every team. But while practice makes perfect, there are also plenty of valuable tools and strategies you can use to help get you there as well. With our comprehensive library of templates and decision-making methods, Mural is designed to help your team make better decisions — and maybe even have some fun while doing so.

Sign up with Mural and get started with templates to improve your group decision-making today.

About the authors

About the authors

David Young

David Young

Contributing Writer
David is a contributing writer at Mural, focused on covering collaboration, meetings, and teamwork. He's been working in the hybrid tech space for over 10 years and has been writing about it nearly as long. When he's not doing that, he's probably cooking up a meal.