Decision rules

Created: July 29, 2013 at 11:30 AM | Updated: December 6, 2021 | By Community Resource Kit

The term decision making means - the process of deciding about something important, especially in a group of people or in an organisation.

In addition to the different procedures involved in making decisions, groups can also have different decision rules. A decision rule is the way the group makes a choice or reaches a decision which can be as important as the decisions themselves. There are no perfect decision-making rules all can lead to situations where either no decisions are made or the decisions are inconsistent. The three most useful decision rules and their advantages and disadvantages are set out in the table below. A pdf version of the table can be downloaded from Supporting Documents at the bottom of this page.


1. Decision by majority rule:

Requires support from more than 50% of the members of the group. Commonly achieved by voting or less commonly by polling (going around the room and asking each person to say where they stand).

  • democratic (i.e. it's assumed that at least more people are for the decision than against it)
  • one way to get a clear decision
  • can be a quick process.
  • can disguise a 49% opposition and could leave a sizeable opportunity for resentment
  • can be divisive in critical issues and create problems for group cohesion and participation.

2. Decision by consensus rule:

Requires that a majority approve a given course of action but that the minority agree to go along with it. May be used selectively (e.g. to carry out a major building programme).

  • allows for full discussion
  • requires participation from all group members
  • allows for wide acceptance and therefore support and implementation of the decision
  • excellent for important or difficult decisions that will subsequently require considerable group participation.
  • can be very time-consuming
  • some psychological pressure can be placed on individuals holding out.

3. Decision by unanimous decision rule:

Requires everyone to agree on a given course of action.

  • the most acceptable approach there is, as there is no opposition to a decision
  • eliminates overt psychological pressure.
  • the most difficult and time-consuming way to reach a decision
  • if all decisions are made this way, a high degree of inefficiency and membership loss may result in the long term, especially among those who want to get things done quickly.

Dissatisfied people might use words such as 'dictatorship' if conflict arises and they feel excluded from decision-making. This results in there being no real commitment to the course of action chosen, which can lead to problems when a decision is implemented.

Difficulties in decision-making

Why do difficulties arise?

There are times when groups find it difficult to make decisions during a meeting. Some reasons for this include:

  • lack of philosophy, goal or a clear plan
  • inadequate leadership
  • the processes for decision-making are not clear 
  • conflicting loyalties or a clash of interests
  • interpersonal conflict 
  • people feel unable to freely express differences 
  • cultural insensitivity 
  • hidden agendas 
  • fear of potential consequences 
  • people think it will take too long or it can't be done at all.

Managing conflict in a group

Conflict might arise within a group because of personal differences, ideological differences, misunderstandings or miscommunication. Rather than trying to avoid or suppress conflict and disagreement, take the opportunity to debate issues to more easily understand and resolve them.

Resolving conflict

There is no single right way to resolve conflict that may arise during meetings, but some key elements should be observed:

  • allow enough time to deal with conflict 
  • define the issue in terms that are clear, neutral and acceptable to all parties in conflict 
  • have at least one person give special attention to the process, someone impartial or uninvolved 
  • use reflective listening to explore the issues: summarise what you think is being said at regular intervals
  • have parties to the conflict identify their points of view and what their ideal solutions would be.

It is often useful to pre-empt hostile conflict arising during a meeting. Try some of these techniques:

  • set ground rules for the meeting 
  • agree on goals 
  • agree on a plan 
  • be clear about the way that decisions will be made (e.g. by consensus)
  • offer the freedom to express feelings safely (i.e. without fear of attack or abuse)
  • ensure feedback is constructive
  • define the issues
  • group the options in broad categories
  • rank ideas (e.g. each person chooses their three most favoured options)
  • break into small groups to re-examine remaining ideas, and report back to the full meeting
  • brainstorm solutions by listing possible ways of dealing with the matter
  • try out an idea then evaluate it
  • suspend judgement / withhold opinions until more information has been obtained
  • compromise
  • agree to abide by a majority vote
  • agree to differ.


Mediation is a process of resolving conflict that can be used when the level of conflict within the group is beyond the group's own ability to resolve it. In these circumstances, its useful to bring in a neutral third party to mediate (i.e. a mediator). Use an experienced mediator - mediation requires a high level of skill and could come from outside your organisation. Their role is to clarify the source of the dispute, facilitate the group identifying solutions for themselves, and establish a course of action when a particular solution is identified. The mediator should not inflict their own point-of-view on the group.

Hui Māori

Hui Māori are another instance of a formal meeting. Below is an example of how a hui on a marae may be organised. However, it is important to note that there are other ways of conducting hui Māori on and off the marae. This is dealt with briefly in the Flexibility of Hui Māori section.

Example of a hui held on a marae

Māori hui on marae are governed by the protocol (kawa) of the marae. These may differ depending on the iwi concerned. A meeting on a marae may be organised in the following way:

  • pōwhiri and mihi (greetings) from tāngata whenua
  • mihi whakahoki (response) from those attending or visiting (manuhiri). The protocols governing who may speak and the order of speeches are dictated by the kawa of the tāngata whenua (or at the discretion of the tāngata whenua, another kawa may be adopted for example in heavy rain, the guests may be called straight into the house). Speeches of tāngata whenua and manuhiri generally include acknowledgement of meeting house and tīpuna (ancestors), ngā mate (deceased), then the mountain, river, chiefs and tribe of the speaker. 
  • speeches are usually followed by a supporting waiata (song) from the speaker's supporters
  • the last manuhiri speaker lays down the koha (gift) at the conclusion of their speech
  • tāngata whenua invite those people present to harirū (shake hands/hongi/kiss)
  • after the harirū, food is shared. This represents cleansing of the visiting party so they become noa (ordinary) and part of tāngata whenua
  • the meeting business is usually preceded by a karakia (prayer or ritual chant)
  • the take (the reason for the meeting) is introduced
  • the kaupapa (procedure or format) is decided
  • speakers stand and address the gathering. They have the right to be heard uninterrupted
  • decision-making is usually by consensus, though there may be a vote at the end of discussion to formalise a decision
  • poroporoaki (farewell) when closure is reached by tying up any loose knots and reconfirming mutual ties
  • the hui ends with a karakia.

Note: Hui held in venues other than marae may be run along similar lines.

Flexibility of hui Māori

In the book Kōrero Tahi: Talking Together, Joan Metge illustrates alternative procedures for conducting hui Māori that can be adapted to different situations from small group discussions to conference-type settings.

Tikanga (rules)

According to Metge, the tikanga (rules) governing discussion at hui Māori are not hard-and-fast directives (though the inexperienced are tempted to treat them as such). They are flexible guidelines that both encourage and require modification according to different circumstances e.g. whether the hui is being held on or off a marae complex or whether visitors are present or not.

Despite this flexibility, Metge mentions five rules of basic importance at hui Māori:

  • the use of physical space to express and mediate social relationships
  • the making of a distinction between tāngata whenua (people of the land) and manuhiri (visitors)
  • the framing of discussion with karakia (prayer) and with ceremonials of greeting and farewell
  • the vesting of responsibility for the management of discussion in participants as a group
  • the appropriate use of one, two or three distinct modes of discussion.

An example of flexibility

One of the examples Metge uses to illustrate how hui Māori can be adapted, is the pōwhiri. This is the welcoming ceremony designed to introduce individuals and groups to each other to reduce feelings of strangeness, anxiety or hostility, so that everyone feels comfortable enough to engage in discussion.

Metge advocates that in a marae setting, rather than the speeches being entirely or mainly in Māori, organisers of the hui could consider providing English translations or summaries of the speeches either during or after the pōwhiri. This used to be common on marae and in such situations as the Māori Land Court sittings where Pakeha were present. However, this practice has fallen out of favour in a drive to extend the use of te reo Māori (Māori language).

For venues other than marae, a welcoming ceremony could be designed that uses the English language but also recognises the status of Māori as an official language and the presence of speakers of other languages. For example, the Māori language could be used to begin and end the ceremony with karanga (call of welcome) and karakia (prayer) and again in the first speech and in waiata. Then speakers from minority groups could be invited to use their own languages in speeches and songs, provided they explain the content in English.

Such adaptations are possible throughout other parts of the hui (refer to Kōrero Tahi: Talking Together for further details).


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Contents of the Community Resource Kit 

Supporting documents

Decision Rules
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