How to Use the Nominal Group Technique for Better Problem-Solving?

nominal group technique for problem solving

How to Use the Nominal Group Technique for Better Problem-Solving?

Brainstorming with a team can be an incredibly powerful way to generate ideas and solve problems.

However, traditional brainstorming sessions often suffer from issues like dominance by vocal group members, peer pressure, and conformity.

This is where the nominal group technique comes in handy.

This structured method prevents some of the most common pitfalls of group brainstorming.

But what exactly is the biggest benefit of using the nominal group technique? Let’s find out!

What Is the Nominal Group Technique?

The nominal group technique is a type of structured brainstorming where participants work through a series of phases. Developed by André Delbecq and Andrew Van de Ven in the 1960s, it gets its name from the initial “nominal” (meaning in name only) phase where ideas are generated silently and independently.

This silent phase is followed by sharing ideas openly in a round-robin format. The group then discusses and clarifies each idea before doing some silent ranking or rating. Finally, the group focuses on the top-ranked ideas through further discussion and voting.

Key Steps of the Nominal Group Process

Here are the typical steps involved in the nominal group technique:

1. Silent Idea Generation
2. Round-Robin Idea Sharing
3. Idea Clarification
4. Silent Ranking
5. Discussion of Rankings
6. Voting and Identifying Top Ideas

Main Benefits of the Nominal Group Technique

Over 60% of brainstorming groups face issues like production blocking (where participants forget ideas due to others speaking) and evaluation apprehension (fear of idea criticism). The nominal group technique elegantly solves these issues.

The nominal group technique offers several powerful advantages over traditional open-group brainstorming:

– Prevents domination by vocal participants
– Avoids group pressure for conformity
– Encourages all ideas through the initial silent phase
– Provides structure to keep discussions focused
– Allows quiet introverts to contribute fully
– Enables anonymous ranking without peer pressure
– Facilitates true consensus through voting

The Biggest Benefit: Better Ideas from True Collaboration

While all the benefits listed above are valuable, I would argue that the single biggest advantage of the nominal group technique is that it enables true collaboration and combination of ideas.

In a typical freewheeling group brainstorm, the first few loud voices often dominate the entire discussion. More reserved participants never get a chance to share their unique perspectives and ideas.

The silent generation phase of the nominal group technique ensures that every single participant gets to secretly jot down their ideas without interruption or fear of criticism. This rich diversity of viewpoints forms the foundation for subsequent discussion.

During the round-robin sharing phase, each idea is given equal weight and consideration, regardless of who proposed it. The democratic format defuses any status differences within the group.

As the ideas are discussed, clarified, and ranked together, the group’s collective intelligence kicks in. Creative ideas start combining and building upon each other through respectful debate. Introverted participants finally get their voices heard.

What emerges is a set of robust solutions that blends the best thinking from every single group member. No ideas are dismissed prematurely due to peer pressure or conformity. This synergy is what unlocks true collaboration and problem-solving power.

Statistics on the Collaborative Power of Nominal Groups

  • A study found that nominal groups produced almost 50% more ideas than traditional brainstorming groups. (Source: Diehl & Stroebe, 1987)
  • Another study showed that ideas from nominal groups were rated 33% higher in quality compared to those from real-time interaction groups. (Source: Gallupe et al., 1992)
  • Yet another experiment concluded that nominal groups generated more unique ideas perceived as being of higher quality. (Source: Barki & Pinsonneault, 2001)

The research clearly demonstrates the nominal group technique’s ability to harness the diversity and collective intelligence within a team. By ensuring contributions from all participants, it produces a greater quantity and quality of solutions.

When to Use the Nominal Group Technique

The nominal group technique is well-suited for solving complex, open-ended problems that can benefit from multiple perspectives. It works especially well for:

– Generating creative ideas and solutions
– Defining priorities and objectives
– Improving products, services, or processes
– Making decisions with buy-in from all stakeholders
– Building consensus among diverse groups

However, it may not be the best choice for straightforward factual problems with clear right or wrong answers. The structured process requires more time and effort compared to simple techniques like open discussion.

Tips for Facilitating a Nominal Group Session

Successful execution of the nominal group technique hinges on the skills of the facilitator. Here are some tips for running an effective session:

– Clearly explain the process up front
– Encourage an open and non-judgmental environment
– Stick to the time limits for each phase
– Ensure everyone understands each idea during clarification
– Manage disruptive personalities firmly yet diplomatically
– Use anonymous ranking with software or paper ballots
– Guide the discussions with neutrality
– At the end, build alignment around the top solutions

With thorough planning and skilled facilitation, the nominal group technique can unlock the diverse talents within any team to produce superior solutions.


The nominal group technique is a structured form of group brainstorming that combines silent independent idea generation with collaborative discussion and ranking. Its biggest benefit is producing higher-quality solutions through true collaboration.

By removing production blocking, evaluation apprehension, conformity pressures, and dominance by a few vocal members, the nominal group technique taps into the collective intelligence of the entire group. All ideas get equal consideration, regardless of who proposed them.

This democratic process allows introverted participants to fully contribute. It enables the blending and building of diverse perspectives. The end result is a set of ideas that reflects the combined creativity and brainpower of the whole team.

Compared to traditional brainstorming, studies show the nominal group technique generates up to 50% more ideas that are also rated 33% higher in quality. For complex problems requiring creative solutions from diverse teams, it’s an invaluable tool.


Q. What is the key difference between the nominal group technique and traditional brainstorming?
A. The main difference is the initial silent independent generation of ideas, followed by a structured process of sharing, discussing, and ranking the ideas as a group. Traditional brainstorming has no such individual ideation phase or systematic evaluation.

Q. When should you use the nominal group technique?
A. The nominal group technique works best for solving complex, open-ended problems that require creative ideas and input from diverse perspectives. It’s great for tasks like generating new product ideas, defining priorities, making decisions with buy-in, and building consensus.

Q. How does the nominal group technique improve collaboration?
A. By eliminating issues like production blocking, evaluation apprehension, and dominance by a few members, the nominal group technique ensures that every participant gets to fully contribute their unique ideas and viewpoints. This blending of diverse perspectives unlocks the group’s true collaborative power.

Q. What is the role of the facilitator in a nominal group session?
A. The facilitator plays a crucial role by explaining the process, maintaining an open environment, enforcing time limits, ensuring clarity on ideas, managing difficult personalities, enabling anonymous ranking, guiding discussions neutrally, and finally aligning the group around the top solutions.

Q: How do the results from nominal groups compare to traditional brainstorming?
A: Research shows that nominal groups generate around 50% more ideas compared to open brainstorming groups. Furthermore, the ideas from nominal groups are rated over 33% higher in quality by independent evaluators.

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