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This article appeared in September 2020, in Romanian, in BIZ

It’s said that two heads are better than one, meaning that a group thinks better and makes wiser decisions than each member taken individually. Wisdom of the crowd makes the average of the answers given by a group of people to be astonishingly close to the correct answer.

Many organizations have understood the power of collective decisions, both in terms of their accuracy and especially in the way they generate commitment, motivation, and individual responsibility. However, in many companies, group decisions are difficult to make and sometimes even harder to implement.

I wonder why? I believe that in business, two (or more) heads are better than one only if there is a well-developed group decision-making system. Here are some ways in which the lack of such a system can lead to wrong, delayed, or poorly implemented decisions.

Groupthink is the tendency to make wrong decisions in groups where conformity is more important than the need of listening to opposing views and it works like this: everyone seems to agree with the proposal, I am not, but I will not be the only one who has a different opinion. Multiply this by 3 or 4 and you can get a group in which, although many would object, no one speaks because no one speaks.

The concept of groupthink was first investigated after the Kennedy administration’s unsuccessful attempt to invade Cuba. Consensus and optimism reigned throughout the discussions in the strategic committee that planned the action, despite glaring mistakes.

The attempt ended with the Bay of Pigs disaster, and several senior committee members said they knew all along that the action had no chance, but preferred to remain silent because no one else seemed to doubt it. A little absurd, I know, but groupthink is often found in organizations at all levels.

The Japanese, whose culture favors group thinking, have invented two techniques to combat it. One is to appoint someone the role of devil’s advocate at every decision-making meeting. The second is to ask all participants to write their opinion on a note before any debate. If the discussion seems to lead to an uncontested decision, the notes are read aloud.

Forced consensus occurs when a group decision-making process (for example, any kind of vote) divides the debate between two opposing positions. Let’s say that in a board some members support project A and others project B and only one project must be chosen. The tendency is to try and convince those who had a different opinion to agree with the solution chosen after the vote (“Come on, now that we voted, you have to accept our solution”).

In such cases, the agreement is made only declaratively, and the greatest danger is that those in the defeated camp will not participate later in the implementation or, worse, will try to sabotage the solution. Therefore, in those situations, instead of agreeing, it’s preferable to ask for (and obtain) commitment from those who disagreed in the first place. This is done with smoothness and diplomacy, in one-on-one discussions, and in the end you get what Jeff Bezos calls “disagree and commit,” a much more productive attitude than the so-called “agreement”.

Forced compromise occurs when the debate between two opposing points of view does not seem to come to an ending. Let’s say the board needs to choose between two valuable projects, A and B. And the two camps don’t seem to give up to their projects.

In such situations, there is sometimes a proposal (well-intentioned, but disastrous) to adopt a third project, or an unfortunate combination of the first two. Both proposals would lead to suboptimal solutions. It’s good in debates to seek compromise, but not always. Not when the compromise solution is worse than any of the initial solutions.

In his bestseller, Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss illustrates the forced compromise with an example: let’s say I would like to wear black shoes tonight, while my wife prefers the brown shoes. The worst thing would be to try to reconcile both points of view and wear one black shoe and one brown shoe.

The existence of several isolated decision-making systems in an organization often leads to conflict. If in my department we have established together an intelligent and open way of making decisions, in which we have clear roles and there is a feedback mechanism not only for implementation, but also for the process itself, internal decisions will be better and better.

However, problems will arise when the decision also involves actors from other departments in which decisions are made differently. If, for example, the decision involves a higher budget, which is approved only by GM, and he is used to making decisions alone, without consultation and without explanation, the trust foundation on which the system in my department is based will suffer a serious crack. That’s why it’s good for organizations to design coherent and unitary decision-making systems, involving all those who will use them in the creation process.

Another problem, unfortunately very common, occurs in organizations that have implemented a unitary system, coherent and open, but forgot to apply it to the management team because it’s assumed that those in C-level do well without guidance. When decisions are made intelligently and efficiently at all other levels, but any discussion in the board is approached unclearly, incoherently, disorderly and late, the implemented system fails faster, because the board can never make a mistake.

One of the key elements of any good group decision system is the clarity of the roles on each decision. The consulting firm Bain & Company has patented a simple role clarification model under the acronym RAPID and I think this may be an interesting topic for the next article.


Radu Atanasiu teaches Thinking and Deciding in Business at Maastricht School of Management Romania and Critical Thinking at The Entrepreneurship Academy, is a business angel and founded volunteering platform.

MSM Romania opened the registrations for the 11th Executive MBA generation (one and a half years, starting on November 13, 2020) and for the 12th Fast Track generation (short program – 4 months, in Romanian, starting on October 9, 2020). More details on

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