Jean Huang Product Manager. Bridging customer needs, business goals, and technical execution to build products with delightful user experience. Jean is dedicated to effective communication and passionate about process improvement.

Understanding and applying the nominal group technique (NGT)

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Understanding And Applying The Nominal Group Technique

On a typical workday, you log into your work laptop and look at your calendar. Sure enough, tons of meetings are on your schedule. No matter what role you are in an organization, meetings are an inevitable part of your work.

Product managers play multiple hats at work. One of the tasks we do is facilitate meetings. Everyone appreciates an effective, efficient meeting, and the nominal group technique (NGT) can help you do this.

Table of contents

What is the nominal group technique (NGT)?

The nominal group technique (NGT) is a structured decision-making method used in group settings. Teams can generate ideas, prioritize them, and make collective decisions with NGT.

This technique is particularly useful when a group needs to reach a consensus or make a decision about a specific problem.

5 steps to nominal group technique (NGT)

So how does NGT work? The five main steps are:

  1. Step 1: Introduction
  2. Step 2: Silent idea generation
  3. Step 3: Idea sharing
  4. Step 4: Group discussion
  5. Step 5: Voting

Five Steps To The Nominal Group Technique

Step 1: Introduction

At the beginning of a group meeting, the meeting facilitator states the objective of the meeting and explains the decision-making method used in this meeting — the nominal group technique.

Give a brief introduction to NGT to the group members. Go through the steps and lay out the key activities you are going to do so that the members can have a general idea.

This step may take 5-10 minutes.

Step 2: Silent idea generation

Group members brainstorm ideas — the potential solutions to the problem they agreed upon in the previous step — individually.

In this stage, the group members are asked not to discuss with others. We want to ensure that all participants have an equal opportunity to contribute without being influenced by other opinions or ideas.

This step may take 10 minutes.

Step 3: Idea sharing

In this step, every group member shares the ideas they generated in a round-robin fashion. The facilitator records these ideas on a whiteboard (or any collaboration platform the company is using). In this idea-sharing process, the facilitator can group similar or duplicated ideas together.

Note that we don’t judge or debate these ideas at this step. We want to ensure everyone has the same opportunity to speak.

This step may take 15–30 minutes.

Step 4: Group discussion

After all ideas have been shared, group members discuss to clarify any unclear points or seek additional information. In this step, we discuss for clarification and not for judgment. The facilitator helps avoid criticism and ensures the group doesn’t spend too much time on a single idea.

This step may take 30–45 minutes.

Step 5: Voting

Finally, in the last step, group members vote on the presented ideas. There isn’t a best way to vote or rank, and the key to this step is that it should be conducted in private.

One common approach is to provide each individual with a certain number of votes or points. They can distribute the votes/points among the ideas based on their preference. This helps with prioritization and identification of the most popular or preferred ideas.

Once the voting process is done, the result should be announced to the participants immediately. The voting result also means the meeting reaches a conclusion.

This step may take 5–10 minutes.

What are the benefits of the nominal group technique?

NGT is a structured approach that helps prevent dominance by certain individuals, encourages diverse perspectives, and leads to more informed decisions. Its main benefits include its emphasis on equal participation, its prevention of groupthink, and its ability to arrive at an objective consensus.

Let’s go into more detail about these below:

Benefits Of The Nominal Group Technique

Encourages equal participation

NGT fosters an environment that allows all participants to have an equal opportunity to contribute their ideas. This is especially beneficial for introverted or less vocal individuals who might be overshadowed in traditional group discussions.

Moreover, equal participation also means that diverse perspectives can be seen. This can lead to more well-rounded solutions.

Prevents groupthink

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon where group members tend to conform to a dominant viewpoint without critical evaluation to avoid conflicts. The silent idea generation step and voting step help reduce the influence of group dynamics.

Arrives at an objective consensus

The voting process facilitates an objective way to prioritize ideas. This can help identify the most preferred ideas or solutions based on the collective preferences of the group.

The disadvantages of the nominal group technique

NGT can be very effective in certain situations. However, it might not be suitable for every decision-making scenario and requires careful consideration:

Disadvantages Of The Nominal Group Technique

It only solves one problem at a time

As you may already notice, NGT is structured to focus on one topic at a time. There are two sides to every coin. Dealing with only one problem at a time helps teams focus but the lack of flexibility can also be a major disadvantage to some teams.

It’s time-consuming

NGT involves steps of idea generation, sharing, and voting. Though each step should be timed, the processes can still lead to long meetings. The whole process typically can take 60 to 90 minutes.

There’s limited spontaneous collaboration

The silent idea generation, on the one hand, fosters equal participation. On the other hand, it may limit spontaneous collaboration among participants on the other side. The lack of real-time interaction can restrict some creative ideas that emerge from dynamic discussions.

It adds complexity for large groups

The ideal group size is around 5–10 individuals. While a larger group can generate more ideas, it can take too long to go through the NGT steps of idea generation, sharing, and voting.

If NGT has to be implemented in the larger group, consider dividing the group into smaller sub-groups to proceed. The smaller groups can bring their top five ideas to the larger groups for further discussion and voting.

When should we use NGT?

Now that we’ve learned the advantages and disadvantages of NGT, let’s further discuss when and in what scenario to use this technique:

When To Use The Nominal Group Technique

When some individuals are more vocal than others

There can be multiple reasons that cause some people to be more vocal than others. For instance, some are more introverted than others, or there’s a power imbalance between members. Regardless, NGT is structured to level out the playing field for diverse group members.

When some individuals are new to the team

As a new member, sharing ideas with a group of new faces can be daunting. NGT creates a safe space for all participants, including the newbie, to contribute. NGT has a significant advantage in ensuring equal participation.

When the topic is controversial

One trait of NGT is “no criticism.” When the topic is controversial or the conversations are heated, individuals may tend to conform to the major voice of the room so that conflicts can be avoided. The anonymous voting step in NGT helps teams to reach a rational and objective conclusion.

Tips for facilitating a meeting with NGT

Before we wrap up, let me share some tips and best practices for facilitating a meeting using the nominal group technique.

Have a clear objective

At the beginning of the meeting, declare the objective of the meeting and the problem the group is going to discuss and solve in this meeting. We want to ensure we have an agreement here to avoid unnecessary inefficiency and potential scope creep.

Keep it simple

The process of NGT is simple and intuitive. Let’s keep it simple as it is. Only when the participants understand where they are in the process of the meeting can they follow through and provide their thoughts and knowledge.

Foster a safe space

NGT provides a structure that helps everyone have a voice in the meeting. The meeting facilitator should strive to provide a feeling of equality among members. This should be done and is easier to do at the beginning of the meeting rather than at the middle or end.

Visualize the discussions

In group meetings, people often get lost in the processes. While you are hosting a meeting, recording the ideas and discussion with some simple graphs or diagrams or simply just writing them down on the screen or whiteboard can be helpful. There are also tons of collaboration platforms to help you visualize your meeting on the screen.


Ultimately, we won’t agree 100 percent of the time, but it is still valuable that group members can feel valued and respected when they are involved in the decision-making process.

The nominal group technique finds a nice balance of group collaboration and individual creativity. It allows all kinds of ideas and perspectives and aims for a genuine consensus.

Featured image source: IconScout

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Jean Huang Product Manager. Bridging customer needs, business goals, and technical execution to build products with delightful user experience. Jean is dedicated to effective communication and passionate about process improvement.

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