5.5 Group vs. Individual Decision Making: When to Use Each

Jan 13, 2020 | Cognitive Psychology, Courses, ch5 Decision Making & Reasoning in Psychology

At times an individual makes a decision, and at other times a group makes the decision. In this lesson, we will look at the issues surrounding group versus individual decisions

Go With the Herd

Every time I watch an old Western on television, there is at least one scene of a cattle drive. All the cattle moving together in one direction, being herded in the destination the cowboys want them to go. On occasion, we see a cow break from the herd and go out on its own, and it is usually tracked down and brought back to the herd. Now, it may not seem like much, but in many ways, this is an example of individual decision making versus group decision making. That one lone cow thought to herself: ‘I am going to go over here and get away from the group.’ Until that point, every decision the herd made, that cow followed.

Advantages and Disadvantages

In business, decisions are an everyday occurrence. The challenge we all face is when to make decisions based on group input as opposed to making a decision on individual input. There are advantages and disadvantages to both concepts, and truth be told, neither is really right or wrong.

You see, if we make a decision as a group, we are getting a consensus, which is a cohesive, agreeable decision made by more than one person. This consensus takes into account the different viewpoints, backgrounds and perspectives of the individuals that made the decision. Truly, it is a team decision and one that can bring individuals in an organization together to fix a common problem. Contrary to that, we have consultation, and it represents one person getting feedback from the group but making a decision on his or her own. While we are still using a group to help us make a decision, the final decision is made by one person and not by the group, thus there is no consensus being reached.

One person can make a decision much quicker than a group, but the information used to make that decision is limited to that one person and his or her perspective on the issue. In some cases, that can be a positive, as the decision needs to be made quickly, or the decision only requires one person to be accountable for making it, thus a consensus is not required. However, it can also be a negative, as again, we have one person making a decision without potentially obtaining feedback from the others.

Group decision making can be a positive because, once again, a group incorporates many different perspectives and backgrounds. For example, if the decision is going to be made to raise the price of a product, a group consensus of sales, marketing, engineering and production may be beneficial. No one person could totally comprehend all the ramifications of a price increase, and a consensus could help. Conversely, there could be too many different perspectives, making a consensus almost impossible to reach, thus the individual who is ultimately responsible will have to make an individual decision.

When to Use Each Model

When to use group or individual decision making really comes down to several factors:

  1. Power: Does the person making the decision have the power to make it on his or her own?
  2. Complexity: Is the decision that needs to be made a complex decision that requires feedback from other areas, or is it relatively straightforward?
  3. Structure: Does the structure of the organization allow for individuals to make decisions on their own?

Lesson Summary

Decisions are not always easy to make, and sometimes the best choice is not obvious. In many cases, the more feedback a person gets from a team, the better; but as we pointed out, that could also confuse the decision even more. In the end, whether to use a group or an individual decision falls on the shoulders of the leader and his or her interpretation of power, complexity and structure, as it relates to making decisions.

Learning Outcomes

Following this video lesson, you should be able to:

  • Differentiate between consensus and consultation in group decision making
  • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of group and individual decision making
  • Identify the factors that impact whether a group or an individual decision making process should be used
5.6 Groupthink: Definition & Examples
5.4 What is Bias? - Definition & Types