Decision Making in Small Groups

By Nathan W. Turner
From Leading Small Groups, Judson Press, 1996, pp. 49 - 50

The larger picture of small-group functioning begins to be sketched on the canvas of a religious or voluntary organization's culture, context, socioeconomic milieu, and the actual purpose(s) of each small group. In religious, voluntary, and nonprofit organizations, decision making is constantly a challenge. Decisions need to be correct and supported enthusiastically by all involved in implementing them. The energy, commitment, loyalty, and vision of all members is needed for the decisions and actions to be successful. It is vital, then, that the underlying steps and psychology of why and how decisions are made be understood in such organizations. It is crucial that leadership personnel be given some training in this area especially. To this end this chapter seeks to summarize for the reader some of the most important research done on decision making, explain its basic steps, show where decisions can go wrong, and relate it to where one works with decisions.

Problems and challenges require decisions. The immediate problem needs a clear, brief, and understandable definition before proceeding further. The art of defining and clearly identifying the various parts of a problem or challenge is frequently short-circuited during a group's desire to accomplish a lot in too brief a time. Yes, "haste makes waste." Research indicates that when the stress and tension level gets too high or intense, the human mind has a tendency to begin to block out other alternatives and focus narrowly on just one. This is the area in which many groups overlook taking whatever time is really needed to describe and define adequately the problem that needs solving. In brief, it is quite possible to make a decision on only a portion of the overall problem and unknowingly assume that the whole thing is solved.

Values and Decision Making
If we believe that conflict is negative and to be avoided, we can develop a blind spot in our perception and understanding of what is happening. A blind spot can set us up for selective perceptions and hearing so we see and hear only that with which we are comfortable. From this basic stance we place ourselves in a position of desiring to hear only positive things or deciding only positive things pertaining to self, others, the group, or the organization. When feedback or data is negative, we begin to feel hurt or threatened. Is it any surprise that the negative value or belief assigned to conflict and dealing with differences in religious and voluntary organizations may have direct influence on decisions and how they are made?

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