What Is The Stepladder Technique? The Stepladder Technique In A Nutshell

The stepladder technique was invented by Steven Rogelberg, Janet Barnes-Farrell, and Charles Lowe in 1992. The creators acknowledged that while making group decisions could be difficult, making good group decisions could be even harder.  The stepladder technique is an approach used to increase group decision-making effectiveness.

Understanding the stepladder technique

The stepladder technique endeavors to make this process more effective by enabling each group member to contribute individually before there is an opportunity to be influenced by someone else. This improves the quality of ideas put forth and avoids a scenario where individuals with dominant personalities overpower others.

The technique is also one of several similar frameworks that decrease the likelihood of groupthink. This is a common occurrence during the ideation phase where groups reach a consensus or make a decision without testing or challenging their ideas first. The stepladder technique also reduces social loafing, where a disinterested group member hides behind the contribution of someone else.

Implementing the stepladder technique

There are five general steps to implementing the stepladder technique:

  1. Explain the problem – a facilitator starts by telling each group member the problem or task at hand. This must be done individually, with each individual given enough time before the group comes together to think about possible solutions.
  2. Build the ladder – after sufficient time has passed, the facilitator asks two members of the group to discuss the problem in a private and comfortable setting. 
  3. Continue the process – once the initial two individuals have discussed their respective ideas, a third person is permitted to enter the room and join the conversation. The third person presents their ideas to the other two before anything is discussed as a group. This avoids groupthink and encourages everyone to share their unadulterated thoughts.
  4. Complete the ladder – this means the process in step three is repeated until each member has had a chance to share their thoughts. 
  5. Making a decision – in making a decision, teams must avoid the temptation to default to an obvious solution before all opinions have been heard. Following the stepladder technique through to the end is important in encouraging diverse input.

Weaknesses of the stepladder technique

Despite its obvious strengths, the stepladder technique is not perfect.

Some of the weaknesses businesses need to keep in mind include:

  • Tokenism – the stepladder technique is a more inclusive approach to brainstorming, but it can be reduced to a token effort if dominant personalities are allowed to interrupt or challenge the opinions of members entering the discussion room.
  • Efficiency – the staggered approach of the technique means it will likely take longer to complete than similar frameworks, especially if there are large groups involved. Companies that require greater efficiency in decision-making may be forced to look elsewhere. For best results, groups size should be limited to 4-7 members.
  • Utility – the stepladder technique is a systematic approach to making a single decision. As a result, it may be impractical and needlessly exhaustive in situations requiring multiple decisions to be made.

Key takeaways:

  • The stepladder technique is an approach used to increase group decision-making effectiveness invented by Steven Rogelberg, Janet Barnes-Farrell, and Charles Lowe in 1992.
  • The stepladder technique can be performed in five simple steps: explain the problem, build the ladder, continue the process, complete the ladder, and make a decision. A good facilitator will ensure the process is respected with all personal opinions heard.
  • The stepladder technique does have some limitations. While it helps teams avoid groupthink, it is not immune to manipulation from dominant individuals. The technique may also be unsuitable in situations requiring multiple decisions or where time is limited.

Connected Decision-Making Frameworks


Simon’s satisficing strategy is a decision-making technique where the individual considers various solutions until they find an acceptable option. Satisficing is a portmanteau combining sufficing and satisfying and was created by psychologist Herbert A. Simon. He argued that many individuals make decisions with a satisfactory (and not optimal) solution. Satisfactory decisions are preferred because they achieve an acceptable result and avoid the resource-intensive search for something more optimal.

RAPID Framework

The RAPID framework is a tool used to help businesses make important decisions. The RAPID framework was developed by global consultancy firm Bain & Company, which noted that “high-quality decision making and strong performance go hand in hand.”

Foursquare Protocol

The Foursquare Protocol is an ethical decision-making model. The Foursquare Protocol helps businesses respond to challenging situations by making decisions according to a code of ethics. It can also be used to help individuals make decisions in the context of their own moral principles. It consists of four steps: gather the facts, understand previous decisions, assess the degree of similarity to past events, and assess yourself.

DACI Decision-Making

The DACI Decision-Making Framework was developed by software company Intuit in the 1980s. The DACI Decision-Making Framework assigns and then displays the responsibilities of the individual when making decision. DACI stands for driver, approver, contributor, and informed.

Lightning Decision Jam

The Lightning Decision Jam
The Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ) is a means of making fast decisions that provide quick direction. The Lightning Decision Jam was developed by design agency AJ&Smart in response to the inefficiency of business meetings. Borrowing ideas from the core principles of design sprints, AJ&Smart created the Lightning Decision Jam.

Multi-Criteria Analysis

The multi-criteria analysis provides a systematic approach for ranking adaptation options against multiple decision criteria. These criteria are weighted to reflect their importance relative to other criteria. A multi-criteria analysis (MCA) is a decision-making framework suited to solving problems with many alternative courses of action.

Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework gives context to decision making and problem-solving by providing context and guiding an appropriate response. The five domains of the Cynefin Framework comprise obvious, complicated, complex, chaotic domains and disorder if a domain has not been determined at all.

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

Personal SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is commonly used as a strategic planning tool in business. However, it is also well suited for personal use in addressing a specific goal or problem. A personal SWOT analysis helps individuals identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Pareto Analysis

The Pareto Analysis is a statistical analysis used in business decision making that identifies a certain number of input factors that have the greatest impact on income. It is based on the similarly named Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effect of something can be attributed to just 20% of the drivers.

Failure Mode And Effects Analysis

A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a structured approach to identifying design failures in a product or process. Developed in the 1950s, the failure mode and effects analysis is one the earliest methodologies of its kind. It enables organizations to anticipate a range of potential failures during the design stage.

Blindspot Analysis

A Blindspot Analysis is a means of unearthing incorrect or outdated assumptions that can harm decision making in an organization. The term “blindspot analysis” was first coined by American economist Michael Porter. Porter argued that in business, outdated ideas or strategies had the potential to stifle modern ideas and prevent them from succeeding. Furthermore, decisions a business thought were made with care caused projects to fail because major factors had not been duly considered.

Comparable Company Analysis

A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

SOAR Analysis

A SOAR analysis is a technique that helps businesses at a strategic planning level to: Focus on what they are doing right. Determine which skills could be enhanced. Understand the desires and motivations of their stakeholders.

STEEPLE Analysis

The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

Pestel Analysis

The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

DESTEP Analysis

A DESTEP analysis is a framework used by businesses to understand their external environment and the issues which may impact them. The DESTEP analysis is an extension of the popular PEST analysis created by Harvard Business School professor Francis J. Aguilar. The DESTEP analysis groups external factors into six categories: demographic, economic, socio-cultural, technological, ecological, and political.

Paired Comparison Analysis

A paired comparison analysis is used to rate or rank options where evaluation criteria are subjective by nature. The analysis is particularly useful when there is a lack of clear priorities or objective data to base decisions on. A paired comparison analysis evaluates a range of options by comparing them against each other.

Hickam’s Dictum

Hickam’s dictum is the counterargument to Occam’s razor. Whereas Occam’s razor is a heuristic that tends to narrow down decision-making to the simplest variables, Hickam’s dictum believes a situation must be tackled by looking at multiple variables.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Occam’s Broom

Occam’s broom was first proposed by South African microbiologist Sidney Brenner who proposed that inconvenient facts that do not fit into someone’s hypothesis or serve their agenda are swept aside or hidden. Occam’s broom is a principle stating that inconvenient facts are hidden or obscured to draw important conclusions or argue points.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Principle-Agent Problem

The theory behind the principle-agent problem was developed by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Jensen and economist and management professor William H. Meckling. The principle-agent problem describes a conflict in priorities between a person or group and the representative authorized to make decisions on their behalf.

TDODAR Decision Model

The TDODAR decision model helps an individual make good decisions in emergencies or any scenario with a high degree of uncertainty. TDODAR is an acronym of the six sequential steps that every practitioner must follow, comprising: time, diagnosis, options, decide, act/assign, review.

Mendelow Stakeholder Matrix

The Mendelow stakeholder matrix is a framework used to analyze stakeholder attitudes and expectations and their potential impact on business decisions.

Foursquare Protocol

The Foursquare Protocol is an ethical decision-making model. The Foursquare Protocol helps businesses respond to challenging situations by making decisions according to a code of ethics. It can also be used to help individuals make decisions in the context of their own moral principles. It consists of four steps: gather the facts, understand previous decisions, assess the degree of similarity to past events, and assess yourself.

Go/No-Go Decision Making

In general, terms, go/no-go decision making is a process of passing or failing a proposition. Each proposition is assessed according to criteria that determine whether a project advances to the next stage. The outcome of the go/no-go decision making is to assess whether to go or not to go with a project, or perhaps proceed with caveats.


The OODA loop was popularized by U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Colonel John Boyd to describe maneuver warfare during the Korean War. The OODA loop is a four-step approach to decision making where strategies must be adjusted quickly. Those four steps comprise observe, orient, decide, and act.

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF FrameworkBCG MatrixGE McKinsey MatrixKotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

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