– Speeding and Improving the Group Decision Process
meetings and other gatherings can be very unproductive.
People who dominate are often given the floor at the expense of the less
assertive participants. A presenter or facilitator can sway a group, even when
the total group input is needed. Prioritization and group consensus for
decision-making can be very frustrating and time consuming.
Sometimes meetings drag on without accomplishing a resolution.
decision-making software and services (groupware) can help!
Groupware is designed to facilitate the work of groups, group
decision-making and brainstorming. The article will focus primarily on the
real-time, face-to-face products. Although these applications can be used with
hundreds of people, generally they are designed for smaller groups of twenty or
less. The typical setup involves participants seated around a hollow-square
table, each with a laptop. All laptops are linked to the facilitator’s
computer with the output to a data projector and screen so that all can see the
results. The facilitator, typically hired to conduct the meeting, sets up the
network and does the simple training on how the system works. This facilitator
organizes the questions, polling and information gathering tasks. Web versions
work in a similar manner except that all participants are at their own computer.
The facilitator pushes the visuals using the internet to the participant’s
browser and a conference-call telephone is used for the audio.
collective decision process time can often be cut in half by using these tools)
(the most vocal participant can’t dominate the discussion)
(everyone has their say on an equal voting basis)
ideas in a shorter time (everyone can input simultaneously)
building (greater buy-in as everyone has had their ideas heard)
documentation of the meeting with statistical analysis can be provided instantly
during and after the meeting.
· Board meetings and strategic planning sessions: Senior management can make higher quality decisions faster. Decisions have greater buying and have longer-term success through the consensus achieved.
· Team processes: Groupware works well in team environments. Solutions to complex problems can be achieved in a quicker manner.
· Research: Groupware can be used as a research tool for gathering, summarizing, and analyzing input. With instant feedback and the ability to combine results from several meetings, needs assessments can be conducted quickly and accurately. Participants are involved in the process and support builds around the solutions that are produced.
Groupware in use:
I have personally seen the power of groupware in action. I recently participated in a groupware brainstorming session for an association. There were about 20 participants, each with a laptop, and we were posed with several questions. In the first round the question was: “What are the top five action items that our association should do in the next year?” We were given 10 minutes to compose our individual lists on the laptops in front of us. Then, the facilitator asked us each to send in only our top item (by highlighting the item and pushing the send button). These choices were immediately projected for all to see. There were some duplicates that were eliminated by group decision. We were then asked to rank the list using our PCs to vote. Within another minute, all of the items from the first submission round were ranked. This process was then repeated for the rest of the items on our lists. In about 40 minutes, we produced a prioritized list of more than 90 action items.
We then did the same for the education topics for monthly meetings. Again, in less than an hour we came up with more than 100 ideas, all ranked and all prioritized. We all had equal input and the quality if the ideas were excellent. The entire session took less than 2.5 hours and at the end, the output of the entire meeting was printed and copied for each of us to take away. Without the groupware, I believe it would have taken the full day, and, I believe the quality would not have been as good. The groupware products allowed us all to have equal say and allowed us to quickly input and rank all ideas. Savings of 50% or more in time are very commonly reported in these types of sessions.
are some of the major players in this field:
Covision’s Council (www.covision.com)
is a groupware application and service, running on a network of laptop computers
and provides audience polling, brainstorming and decision making applications.
Council’s tools fall into three categories: text gathering, polling and
recording. Council has been used with as many as 1,500 people, on portable
networks of up to 200 laptop computers but groups of 20 are more common.
Price is $2,500/day for up to 20 machines including guide, $200 per
machine for more, plus travel costs.
Enterprise Solutions’ Meetingworks (www.meetingworks.com)
is a local area network application based group decision support system with
additional Web-based modules. The price is free download for up to 8
participants, $5,000 for 9-15 participants, and $5,000 for every 10 participants
thereafter. Web based versions are being offered as well.
GroupSystems’ (formerly Ventana Corporation) Workgroup
Edition 2.0 (www.groupsystems.com)
provides services for automating collaborative decision-making. Their current
LAN-based product is migrating to a browser-based system. Licensing, pricing and
distribution are currently undergoing revision but recent pricing was $7,500 for
an annual service fee and $24.95 per user/month.
Web-based group collaboration and meeting tools are also
moving rapidly into this field. In addition to the web-based products the above
companies provided, several totally web-based solutions are coming to the market
as well. With on-the-fly audience polling and real-time documentation of
question, they can help in similar ways in terms of allowing every voice or vote
to be heard, questions to be answered, and ideas to be developed in
brainstorming sessions. One site
that has a particularly good tool set in this regard is PlaceWare (www.placeware.com).
technologies are allowing new, and more productive ways of coming to decisions,
of achieving consensus, and working in teams. Take a look into these products to
make your meetings and group decision-making more effective.
If you find this article helpful, please let me know by signing the Guest Book in the Contact Corbin Section..