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How teams work
How teams work

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5.2 Reaching a decision

Making a decision can be, and often is, difficult, particularly if it involves reaching some accommodation or agreement with others, as it does in working in a team. There follows four decision-making models to reach a decision when a group of people is involved. However, first the group has to decide which model to follow.


The autocratic form of decision making applies where one person, usually the team leader or team manager, has the formal authority to take a decision to which others will be bound, or else one person has the personal charisma or personal authority – delegated to him or her by the others – to make decisions on the group’s behalf. The drawback, particularly when a decision is taken without consultation, is that some or all of the group can be alienated.

Majority rules

Majority rule doesn’t mean that everyone agrees, but the decision is based on a majority vote. The drawback of this model is that it is possible to become deadlocked if there is no majority: half for and half against. Should that occur, there needs to be some mechanism for breaking the deadlock.

Majority rules with minority opinion

This occurs where there is agreement for majority rules but the minority feels strongly enough about their side of the argument to wish to make known their disagreement. To do this, the minority writes what is known as a dissenting opinion: it states what a different outcome could be and the arguments as to why that outcome gained their support. In a team, if a minority feels sufficiently strongly about their view, allowing the minority to prepare a short report for inclusion with the main decision of their views and reasoning can be useful for group cohesion, and may also prove valuable should the group need to revisit the decision in the future.


The term consensus describes the quality or condition of being in complete agreement or harmony. In any group of more than a few, reaching a consensus requires a number of conditions or actions:

  • being willing to accept that rejection of one’s own proposals or ideas is not equivalent to rejection of oneself and does not demean one’s worth within a group
  • striving to find, in discussion with the other members of the group, areas of common agreement
  • ensuring that those who don’t initially agree have a chance to have their say
  • ensuring that everyone has the chance to think about their response to counter-suggestions, changes in wording, and so on
  • seeking to build on areas of agreement to achieve even wider agreement
  • willingness to continue the discussions in this vein until a consensus is reached
  • communicate as a decision only that which is supported by the consensus.

A chairperson is required to manage discussions, whether face-to-face or electronic. The chairperson needs to:

  • ensure that everyone has a fair say (both by asking those who dominate a discussion to give way to others and by inviting those who seem reluctant to join in to express their views)
  • ensure that personality clashes don’t occur or are quickly diffused by reminding the participants that the discussions are intended to reach a consensus, not score debating points
  • remind the participants of the value and importance of goals to be reached.

These points apply as much to online discussions using email and conferencing software as they do to face-to-face sessions amongst participants.


Describe the four models for decision making. Rank them in order of most inclusive decision making to least inclusive.


The four models are:

Consensus: A discussion is held, with a chair to ensure that all participants’ views are heard. Areas of common agreement are found and the discussion moves towards a common view which can be accepted by all. Only that which is agreed upon is communicated as a decision.

Majority rule with minority opinion: A vote is taken and the decision is that voted for by the larger number of participants. Those who do not agree can express their disagreement and give an alternative view.

Majority rule: A vote is taken and the decision is that voted for by the larger number of participants.

Autocratic: The decision is taken by the team leader or manager on the basis of their formal authority or by the person nominated by the rest of the participants.

These are listed from most inclusive to least inclusive, except that if the ‘autocratic’ decision is taken by one person nominated by the rest of the team then this is more inclusive than if taken on the basis of formal authority.