Jens Oliver Meiert

Teamwork, Democracy, and Decisions

Post from September 7, 2010 (↻ August 24, 2017), filed under .

As great as democracy is to prevent negative outcomes, as unsuitable is it to achieve “best” outcomes.

Scrapping fifteen drafts, my new strategy to publish more posts, here are two suggestions to achieve better results in group settings. One of them stolen from Mr Gladwell, I believe, the other one from myself:

If you ask a group of people for their take on something, each response will influence the responses that follow. That does not exactly mean a smart way to get rid of duplicate responses, no, it rather means you’re not learning about everything the group would come up with when asked individually.

That is the first idea: If you want to really tap a group’s knowledge and creativity, ask each group member individually.

Then, how useful is the feedback you received through individual conversations? You’ll probably learn about very productive but also not so great ideas. One option to mitigate is to have the entire group vote on all (anonymized) items; then take, say, the Top 1–5 to carry on, depending on your needs and the results. Or, if 90% of the group voted on item #2, maybe that’s it and item #2 is the silver bullet. And if earlier sessions were about some general design brainstorming, maybe you like to even look at the Top 10 ideas. Another option is not to carry out a vote on all items extracted from individual meetings but, the necessary expertise assumed, to generously preselect a few items or have items preselected that you then ask to be voted on.

That is the second idea: Democracy by guided voting.

From there it’s a bit easier to make a decision that did not get diluted by committee, and one that is still supported (at least less opposed?) by the group. That decision, as we once learned from Mr Klein, can then be improved towards excellence.

About the Author

Jens Oliver Meiert, photo of July 27, 2015.

Jens Oliver Meiert is an author and developer (O’Reilly, W3C, ex-Google). He plays with philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.

There’s more Jens in the archives and at Goodreads. If you have any questions or concerns (or recommendations) about what he writes, leave a comment or a message.

Comments (Closed)

  1. On September 27, 2010, 3:51 CEST, Tim Wong said:

    Been reading through Measuring the User Experience by Tom Tullis and Bill Albert and found some similarities in your thinking.

    I feel that there’s a difference in what you’re trying to say in terms of audience and outputs.

    A better solution has a better potential to be solved in a group (dependent on the talent individuals). However feedback is more valuable and honest when approached on 1:1 interaction.

    That is why I place little value on large stakeholder meetings. There are too many human variables involved. Most of the time opinions are created based on a ‘fight or flight’ defensive response and are thus less honest than if you were to take the fear of ‘judgement’ out of the equation.

  2. On December 13, 2010, 13:30 CET, Ivan said:

    Thats a really good article but i dont understand this part: “That is the first idea: if you want to really tap a group’s knowledge and creativity, ask each group member individually.”

    Do you think its better to ask each group member individually beacuse then you get other answers?

    best regards Ivan

  3. On January 14, 2012, 0:49 CET, John said:

    If anyone has an answer the following would be much appreciated:

    ‘in a democracy, how do you deal with matters with which you may not agree?’

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