One of the hardest endeavors in human behavior is making decisions. Do it on your own, and it can be a problem; do it with a group, and it's often a disaster!
That's why behavioral scientists have been looking for ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which groups make decisions. Some of the most promising tools are Group Decision Support (GDS) tools, and they make decision meetings much, much more than just another meeting!
GDS tools are also called Groupware, which generally refers to a suite of LAN-based software that allows meeting participants to "talk" by entering text on a PC. Each person's contribution is added to a database that everyone can see and respond to, often without knowing who wrote it.
There are three main benefits from using GDS tools to support meetings:
Divergence - GDS tools allow everyone in the room to "talk" at the same time, because they can all contribute to the database simultaneously. So, brainstorming and idea generation is not slowed down by the limitations of listening to one person at a time. Energy builds, pace increases, and great ideas pop out of nowhere.
Convergence - GDS tools enable group members to narrow down their thinking and make decisions, via voting, or allocating points among options, or rank ordering, etc. You can also easily set up a two-by-two matrix to differentiate between items that are urgent versus important.
Anonymity - GDS tools can be configured to allow participants to contribute anonymously. So, all of a sudden, groups that have always deferred to a leader's opinion now don't know which opinion belongs to the leader, which can have the effect of flattening the hierarchy of the organization.
Are GDS tools right for every meeting? Definitely not! But if you have a group that is having trouble getting the real data on the table in front of their manager, or you have a problem that needs concentrated creative thinking, or a decision that needs more than the leader's ability to engineer a consensus.