Leaderless group decision-making denotes the idea that political decisions from a non-hierarchical discussion structure can be more legitimate and effective than those from a hierarchical structure. Since the latter half of the 20th century, such decision-making has been practiced widely in community groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), “deliberation” forums, as well as in the business and management settings. While one may argue its origins go back to Athenian direct democracy, it was the zeal of the 1960s participatory democracy movement in the United States that produced the more sophisticated principles, philosophies, and mechanics of leaderless group decision-making. The progressive social movement activists at that time considered non-hierarchical groups as ethically appropriate to their causes. Since then, this tradition of leaderless group decision-making processes has been adopted in many grassroots social movements. Debates and controversies abound concerning leaderless group decision-making. It has been a normative imperative for many social activists to adopt decision-making in a leaderless manner. Research to date, however, has produced no conclusive evidence that leaderless group discussion results in better or more effective decisions. Proponents argue that members of a leaderless group would develop greater capacities for self-governance because in such a setting they can take more personal and egalitarian initiatives to organize activities of the group. This, in turn, would lead to better group dynamics and discussion, and, eventually, better decisions. Critics suggest that leaderless groups are slow and inflexible in decision-making and that the supposedly leaderless groups usually end up with leaders because of the social dynamics and human nature present in group interactions. Regardless of its potential benefits and problems, the ideals of deliberative and participatory democracy are strongly propelling this egalitarian, discourse-based form of group decision-making. Researchers will gain a great deal of insight from literature in deliberation concerning the functions, problems, and future directions of leaderless groups. In addition, there is a need to study leaderless groups in a more multi-faceted way, as research to date has been dominated by psychology-based quantitative assessment of groups. Qualitative and ethnographic approaches will be helpful to further assess the dynamics of leaderless group decision-making.
Advisory groups and their dynamics play a critical role in crisis management. If they function well and complement the leadership styles of political leaders, advisory groups can provide broad information search, diverse advice and perspectives, and reinforce a leader’s own strengths. They can surround an inexperienced leader with advisors possessing policy expertise or experience in an issue area. On the other hand, advisory groups can also easily fall into more dysfunctional patterns where they do not compensate for a leader’s weaknesses, fail to provide varied perspectives or alternative views, and engage in limited information gathering. Advisory groups can help seal an administration into an “alternative reality bubble” during crises, resulting in policy decisions being made based upon faulty perceptions instead of realities. How should we seek to understand advisory groups and crises? The first cut should involve the consumer of the advisory group’s inputs themselves, the leader. Advisory groups almost always serve at the pleasure of the leader, not themselves, and therefore the leaders will play a major role in determining their influence, how the groups will function, and their importance during crisis decision making. Important variables such as leadership style, sensitivity to context and need for information on the part of leaders, how much control they require over the policy process, and how their prior experience or expertise leads them to rely more or less upon advisors must be examined. The second focus should be upon the advisory groups themselves, their internal dynamics and reactions to stress, how decision rules and policy formulation occurs, and how group pathologies can undermine their crisis performance. Variables such as group malfunctions resulting from stress and the needs for cohesion during crisis (like groupthink) or the splintering of group consensus to warring factions that undercut cohesion (like polythink) must be considered. The stage of development an advisory group is in (i.e., newgroup versus established), the stage of the policymaking process involved (i.e., deliberative versus implemental), how sequential decision-making processes function, the composition of the group members (i.e., experts versus novices), the type of crisis the group faces, and the bureau-political dynamics involved all impact crisis management.