by Matt Minahan

So, your project team is stuck and can't seem to get off the ground. Or, your leadership team is having a hard time deciding on next year's priorities. Or, your team-building project isn't working because no one can stand up and tell the manager the truth.

Sound familiar? They're the problems that confront OD consultants everyday, and Group Decision Support (GDS) tools, or Groupware can help. Last time, we said that GDS tools can be most helpful when your group needs to generate a lot of information in a hurry, when your group needs to plow through a lot of data to make a high quality decision, or when you need to enable people to speak openly, honestly, and anonymously. So, if that is what the GDS tools can do, what's the experience like for the participants?

In the vast majority of cases, participants enjoy the groupware experience and believe that their groupware meetings have been more successful and productive than regular, face-to-face meetings. Participants say that the brainstorming tools enable a higher quality and higher volume of ideas to be generated. It also appears that in, particularly in divergent tasks such as brainstorming, activity occurs in waves of action and energy, with periodic lulls, followed by sudden bursts of simultaneous typing.

How about decision making? Most participants say that the GDS tools are better than post-it notes or colored dots, but not as many are as happy with the outcomes. The simple fact of using the GDS tools does not alleviate problems that afflict face-to-face decisions, such as back room deals, decisions that look solid in real time but which fall apart later, etc. If the group is inclined toward those kinds of "process" problems in their face-to-face work, GDS tools will not make them go away.

Overall, though, the large majority of groupware participants find the tools to be powerful and useful additions to their work. The challenge is to make sure that the meeting agenda reflects the real work that the group needs to accomplish, which an experienced, trained groupware facilitator can do for you.