Decision by Committee: The Pros and Cons of Group Decision-making

In recent years, more food and beverage companies have adopted a different perspective on decision-making. Rather than having one person making unilateral decisions, many businesses have shifted toward a “decision-by-committee” approach, where a small group of stakeholders are part of the process.

This trend is especially prevalent in larger companies that are adopting a more inclusive corporate culture. The goal is to foster greater pride and buy-in from employees by including diverse perspectives in decisions that affect them.

For example, I recently worked with several owners who utilized the decision-by-committee approach when Stellar was building their new food plant. These facilities are multimillion-dollar investments, and these leaders increasingly want to seek input from their employees who will be working in the facility and with the equipment every day.

The purpose behind the decision-by-committee process is admirable, but like anything, it has its advantages and disadvantages. To gain the most value from group decision-making, consider these pros, cons and best practices.

The advantages of decision-making by committee

Diverse ideas from a bigger audience

By nature, a decision-by-committee approach will yield contributions from more diverse perspectives, including from those who may have more experience.

Also, these committees typically involve members from various departments, such as:

  • Management
  • Engineering
  • Operations
  • Maintenance
  • IT

Including stakeholders from these different disciplines allows them to provide specific feedback on a more nuanced level. For example, when it comes to food plant design meetings, maintenance personnel can provide input on the installation of valves and the operations team can tweak the layout of processing lines.

Even if all the ideas can’t be implemented, your company is benefiting from hearing more options and can apply the best ones.

Vendors and contractors better understand your company’s needs

Having these diverse perspectives involved in big decisions allows your vendors, partners and contractors to better understand your company. In the case of our past food plant construction projects, the Stellar team established relationships with various team members instead of just one point of contact. This allowed us to better understand the various challenges and needs of different departments, resulting in greater trust from employees and a higher-quality project.

Decisions don’t hinge on one person’s availability

When you have one person making all the decisions, a project can come to a halt when that person is unavailable or out of the office. With a group, decisions can move forward even in the absence of a stakeholder — meaning a project timeline doesn’t hinge on one person’s schedule.

It’s worth noting that this point can also be a disadvantage if expectations and procedures for the committee aren’t set up properly. (More on that later in the “cons” section.)

Employees feel valued and collaboration is encouraged

Seeking input and feedback from various departments allows employees to feel heard and involved. Plus, these discussions generate dialogue and encourage a culture of collaboration. If executive leaders work together and value everyone’s opinions, mid-level managers and other employees across the company are more likely to follow suit.

The disadvantages of decision-making by committee

Longer decision-making process

The most obvious disadvantage of the decision-by-committee approach is that more stakeholders yields more discussion, which means it can take longer to arrive at an agreement. Plus, it can be more difficult to align the schedules of multiple people for a meeting.

This is often the downfall of many committees, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re committed to group decision-making, build this extra time into your schedule so your next project doesn’t fall behind. (See best practices below!)

Varying communication styles

When you bring together a cross-section of people, it can be difficult to find an ideal communication method that works for everyone.

  • Do people reply to emails?
  • Are conference calls efficient?
  • What about texting for quick decisions?
  • How often do you need to meet in-person?

And it’s not just the mode of communication that can be challenging. Members from different generations may have different expectations when it comes to communication styles and how things are said, which can create friction.

Catching up latecomers

Sometimes the decision-making committee may change over the course of a project. A new person may be hired into the company or someone may change positions. This can slow down the process, because that person likely has to be brought up to speed and they may have feedback on decisions that have already been made. This can be tedious if not managed well.

Best practices for the decision by committee approach

Ensure you run an efficient and effective decision committee by following these tips:

1. Only make the committee as big as it needs to be — When assembling your decision-making group, only include the people critical to the process. It’s acceptable to have stakeholders from various departments, but one person can represent a division. Limit the committee to those intimately involved in the project and its outcome — if that’s only four people, don’t assemble a committee of 10.

2. Manage timelines and adapt accordingly — Be mindful of how long it takes the committee to make a decision and adjust as needed. For example, if you’re averaging three weeks to reach each major decision, adjust the project timeline to account for this.

3. Set new expectations for project deadlines — If your company is used to single-stakeholder decision-making, previous project timelines won’t apply in a decision-by-committee approach. Throw those old expectations out the window and create sensible deadlines according to this new decision-making process.

4. Base decisions on data — Supporting decisions with facts and hard data, rather than opinions or speculation, creates a shorter and more fluid decision-making process. There is less room for debate and uncertainty when decisions are based on facts.

5. Communicate the consequences of late decisions — Projects get off track when committees aren’t held accountable. Delayed decisions have real-world consequences. Remind the team of what’s at stake and what missed deadlines tangibly mean for the project. This can help avoid and/or solve “analysis paralysis” and stalemates.

6. Set a deadline for pulling the trigger — There comes a point when you must stop researching, discussing and thinking. Eventually a decision must be made. Set a time limit on how long discussions can last and establish hard deadlines for when final decisions must be made for each stage of the process.

7. Establish expectations for communication — As mentioned before, everyone communicates differently. Establish expectations for how the group will communicate (mode of communication, how often, ground rules, etc.) and be prepared for those to change over the course of the project. The key is to remain flexible, adapt and keep communication lines open.

8. Set multiple small goals instead of a single big one — Everyone in the group is working toward the same end goal, but getting there can be difficult if you’re not all on the same page along the way. Set small goals to stay on task. Establishing these milestones makes it easier to focus and sets your committee up for success. Don’t focus on December’s issues when you should be focusing on June’s.

Are you assembling a committee to build a new facility or renovate an existing one? We can help! Leave a comment below.


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