One of the most commonly used tools in any group process is brainstorming. Employee involvement teams use this tool when identifying problems, examining interests, finding possible solutions to an issue, and other times.
If a team brainstorms effectively, they will generate a long list of possible options. If you are considering potential concerns or problems for a team to resolve, the list may be too long to the team to take on all at once.
In this case, the team needs to prioritize the list, determining the most significant items as a starting point. There are a number of tools to do this, including Pareto charting, multivoting, or weighted decision making. An easy to use tool we like is Nominal Group Technique, or NGT.
NGT is used when a group wants to prioritize a long list of options or to narrow a list down in order to permit discussion of the most important items. It is an easy to use process that involves everyone but moves quickly.
The steps of Nominal Group Technique are:
1. Generate ideas silently. We always begin brainstorming with time for silent generation. Each group member silently and independently generates as many ideas as possible and records them on note paper.
2. Record ideas exactly on flip chart paper. The facilitator records the ideas that have been generated. We normally use a round-robin process, giving each person an opportunity to suggest one idea and continuing until all have been presented.
3. Discuss and clarify ideas. The group asks questions to clarify the meaning of items. This is not a time for debate. Questions should be asked to be certain there is no misunderstanding of any ideas on the list. At this time, items that are duplicates can be combined. Items that are not feasible can be deleted if the group agrees.
4. Individually rank ideas. Place a letter in front of each remaining item. Members are then asked to select their top items from the list. We normally have the group select no more than about ¼ of the items, but never more than about 5 or 6. Each group member selects the ideas he or she prefers, identifying them by letter. Group members must rank their selections in order from most desirable to least.
For example, if the list of possible suggestions included 20-25 ideas, each group member could be asked to pick their five favorite from the list. Each group member then ranks his or her five ideas by giving 5 points to the most important idea, 4 to the second most important idea, and so on.
5. Record the points awarded by each group member on the flip chart. We normally break the team up into groups to make the process move more quickly. A recorder in each group gets the selections of each member and puts the totals on the flip chart.
6. Display and discuss rankings. The facilitator will total the scores for each item and circle the items that received the highest total scores.
7. Discusses the outcome of the ranking and seek consensus. If there is no consensus, the group may choose to conduct a second round of ranking, eliminating the lower rated items.
The last step is an important part of the process. The determination of the items on which the group wants to work needs to be a consensus decision. Do not simply look at the point totals and assume the group will agree. If you do, all you have done is vote. Consensus will be easier to reach, since the lowest ranked items are probably not going to receive further consideration.
If you are working with a list of possible problems the team will try to resolve, determine how many items on which they will start to work. That should be based on the importance of the items on the list and realistically reflect the time commitment required for the group members.
Options in the NGT process include assigning more points to the highest ranking items (such as 5-3-1 if three items are selected). This gives more weight to the higher priority items.
Notice that in NGT, no discussion takes place until the final step. We do not spend time debating or defending each item. This permits the process to move more quickly while still determining the most important items. It also minimizes the possibility of group members dominating the discussion. Everyone has an equal opportunity to offer ideas and determine priorities.
Nominal Group Technique is just one way to prioritize or narrow a list of items. We have used it successfully with many teams and recommend it to your groups.