How to Supercharge Collaborative Decisions

Five Parts:PreliminariesNotingVotingVariationsUnderstanding the dynamics

Group decision-making and brainstorms are often time drains: People gather in a group, give input, then go 'round and 'round. And, usually, nothing comes out—except a ball of ideas with no clear conception of how to untangle it or proceed productively. What is worse: Group negotiations and brainstorming often drain energy, breathe life into poor ideas, and result in watered-down decisions.

To get around the inherent pitfalls of group decision-making, learn to structure sessions which effectively short-circuit time and energy drains: Use Google Ventures "Note and Vote" to tap the power of many minds and many viewpoints.

Part 1

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    Choose an organizer/facilitator for the proceedings. This person will notify the participants, prepare materials, and set the agenda.
  2. 2
    Set the meeting place and time. The organizer/facilitator should secure a meeting place and set a time that is suitable for all those participating. He or she should notify everyone and may state the general purpose of the meeting and the expected length of the meeting—thirty minutes, including refreshments.
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    Gather the supplies. The organizer/facilitator should gather all the "Things You'll Need" and prepare any crib notes to guide him or her through facilitating the meeting. This process should be completed earlier in the day or the previous afternoon.
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    Choose a decider. This may be done during the meeting by a blind draw of toothpicks (or marbles). - The individual who draws the short toothpick (odd colored marble) becomes the decider. Alternatively, the decider may be chosen ahead of time by pulling a name from a hat. A second name might be drawn as an alternate in case the first choice balks at being the decider.

Part 2

  1. 1
    Gather individual thoughts. Give everyone two pieces of paper and a writing implement, then set a timer for seven to ten minutes (time set by facilitator). During this time, each person records, individually, as many pertinent ideas as he or she can.

    These will not all be shared with the group, so everyone is encouraged to really open up without regard for any potential judgements. The plan is to unleash a free association of wild, loose thinking and capture all the ideas. No one has to worry about sharing dumb ideas. The facilitator should make sure to mention:
    • The objective of the meeting - be it to identify opportunities for new ventures, to plan an optimal transition to a new product line, whatever.
    • The time allotted for this task - Seven to ten minutes is really a lot of time once your mind opens itself to the task. There is no need to rush.—Just calmly note your thoughts and ideas in short bullet points.
  2. 2
    Filter the individual thoughts. Set the timer for two minutes and have everyone narrow their thoughts to the two best. Each person should cross off all ideas except their two stellar insights—either whole solutions or critical components. Again, the thinking should be by individuals and be uninfluenced by what others might judge.
  3. 3
    Share the individual ideas and capture them on a whiteboard. Each person, in turn, reads their ideas while someone lists the ideas on the whiteboard. There should be no pitching of the ideas at this time, however it is fun to use inflection and vocalizing as entries are read. Everyone should, of course, be pretty hyped about the suggestions they offer and a bit of drama is encouraged.
    • It is best to number the choices so they may be easily referred to during the voting which follows.

Part 3

  1. 1
    Vote individually on the favorites. The time limit for this section of the process is three to five minutes (time set by the facilitator). Set the timer for the appropriate length of time.
    • Everyone selects their favorite from the list on the whiteboard and records it on a piece of paper. There is to be no discussion during this process. When each person has made their selection, they should turn their piece of paper face down and wait quietly for the others to finish.
  2. 2
    Announce the votes. Each person, in turn, says aloud his or her vote while someone marks the votes by putting a dot next to the appropriate idea. Pitching your choice is permitted, but the pitch must be short (no more than one minute per pitch).
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    Decide on the outcome. The decider makes the final call for the group and can choose to honor the votes or not.
    • Instead of a lot of back and forth, the decider helps to streamline the process. Each individual has had a voice and everyone in the group should have implicitly agreed that everyone will honor and support the choice of the decider. Using a decider eliminates a lot of back and forth and politicking.

Part 4

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    Shape the process appropriately. Make sure to tailor the process to your group needs, to the team members, and to what is being considered—what is "Noted and Voted" upon.
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    Consider allowing each participant two votes. These may be used on separate line items or doubled up on one item.

Part 5
Understanding the dynamics

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    Realize the benefits of isolation while noting. Allowing alone time to consider and sift through viable options helps circumvent "groupthink." This results in a richer and more diverse pool of options.
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    Acknowledge the positive effect of ditching linear decision processes. Normal meetings are linear: One person speaks while the others listen, awaiting a turn to articulate their thoughts. The thinking is normally a thought chain with one thought loosely linked to another and that to another, and so forth.

    This thought chain normally proceeds along a linear path and members in the decision-making process often try to jump the thought train onto a path that follows his or her vision: Many individuals seek to invoke their visions.—Thus, in a traditional meeting, the thought train is often derailed or becomes misdirected.
    • "Note and vote" isolates each thought process and, to a great extent, gets around the misdirected final outcome that often results from a traditional meeting.
  3. 3
    Revel in the power of parallel processing. "Note and Vote" invokes the processing power of each mind simultaneously and taps the power of parallel processing: Many independent ideas are generated rather than one, none, or a single watered-down compromise.
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    Realize that blind, independent voting short-circuits "groupthink." By voting independently, each choice reflects a unique perspective and no voice is amplified.
    • In other processes, votes often echo the opinion of someone who is considered wise or the "voice of reason."
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    Value the insight gained during the sales pitches. Listening to the perspective of others sometimes provides valuable insights which super-charge ideas.
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    Understand the power of alone time. The usual meeting gives little time for focused, individual thinking. Normally, there is little engaged, creative thinking and sorting. The "Note and Vote" format kick-starts the creative sorting process. And, usually, a large amount of individual thinking yields better final choices.
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    Realize that the strongest choices often come from individuals—in this case, the decider. The decider will likely select an outcome that is superior to one arrived at in a traditional meeting, and in one-quarter of the time.


  • This process is intentionally left open so that you are free to imagine and explore the possibilities as they relate to your particular situation. This process is a merely a set of ideas intended to ignite your thoughts. Hopefully you are open to its myriad possibilities and are able to use them to supercharge your efforts.
  • You may want to assign tasks or ask for volunteers. You could delegate responsibilities to:
    • An organizer
    • A facilitator
    • A time-keeper
    • A recorder
    • A decider
  • "Note and Vote" can be used as a part of a larger process. It is perfect for getting unstuck when group decision-making bogs down or a sticking point arises in the group process. Therefore, it is good to become familiar with this method and be ready to quickly shift focus by invoking a "Note and Vote" session.
  • The "Note and Vote" result might not be the best single solution, but is usually a great solution, especially considering the time expended. The power of the method is that it is a "high leverage" process. It provides exceptional return for each unit of time and energy expended.


  • Do not do away with the decider or try to circumvent the decider's choice. The power and beauty of the decider is that a considered opinion cuts through all the wishy-washy back and forth of many individuals with many agendas and arrives at a crystal clear path for the group. The focus this decision provides is a critical element of the process and whole-heartedly following the path selected by the decider produces the best results.
  • The facilitator should do his or her best to avoid prejudicing the process or the outcome in any way. It is best to leave the process open to find its own final shape.

Things You'll Need

  • Timer
  • Two pieces of paper for each participant
  • Writing implements
  • Whiteboard
  • Erasable markers
  • Whiteboard eraser
  • Toothpicks, marbles, or other device to select one special member of the group
  • Refreshments (optional)

Sources and Citations

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