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Dr. Richard W. Scholl
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In today's organizations, team and group decision-making has become a part of everyday organizational life. Many people spent a good part of their workdays attending meetings for all types of purposes. Some are simply for communication purposes, but many involve making some type of joint decision. This WebNote provides a brief summary of the issues associated with decisions made by groups. It ends with a typology of types of group decision-making processes.

Types of Decision Making Meeting

While there are a variety of reasons for call group meeting (some of which have little to do with decision making or problem solving), for our purposes we will categorize decision making meetings into one of the following.

Strategy: Strategy or planning meetings are called to determine the future direction of the organization or unit. Generally the issues of the appropriateness of the mission and current strategies for achieving it are discussed. Using tools like the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) model, the current direction of the organization is assessed. If it is discovered that changes in the environment render the current mission and/or strategy inappropriate, a new strategic plan is developed.

Problem solving: When a specific problem emerges, usually manifesting itself in the form of some type of response from a dissatisfied stakeholder or claimant, a problem solving meeting is held. These meeting take one of two general forms.

  1. Solve the immediate problem- the focus of this type of meeting is to determine how to satisfy the immediate concerns of the dissatisfied stakeholder. For example if a specific customer has received a batch of defective parts, the issue might be, How to we get non defective parts to this customer?
  2. Solve the long range problem- the focus of this type of meeting is to reduce the likelihood of a given type of problem surfacing in the future, by diagnosing the cause(s) of this recurring problem and developing a solution consist with these causes that solves the problem. In the above example, the problem might be defining as, How do we reduce the likelihood of defective parts being produced.

One must keep the following flow model in mind during the problem solving Process: Mission->Competitive Strategy->Functional Strategies->Operational Plans. As we address a specific problem at the operational level, is it entirely possible that we may trace the root cause back to the mission. In this case the focus of the meeting (or more accurately set of meeting) would turn to a strategic exercise as described above.

Operational decision: Make decisions such as staffing, purchase, or work method decision. The issue here is the establishment of set of criteria (derived from the goal of the decision and claimant issues) by which to evaluate alternatives.

Evaluation: Evaluation meetings are held to evaluate a new process, structural modification, new program, etc. Once again, the important issue is to establish a set of evaluative criteria based on the goals of the new program or process.

Why Group Decision-making?

Integration of the team (Specialization vs. Integration)- As we will examine when we study organizational structure, the needs to specialized and group individuals in department by functional expertise posses some coordination, or integration, problems. One method of providing integration is the establishment of project teams.

Better decisions- It can be argued that group produce potentially superior decisions by affecting one of the three elements of decisions:

  1. Criteria- As group membership increases there is a likelihood that more stakeholders will be represented and their interests can be incorporated into the criteria used in the decision process.

  2. Cause/Effect- By including individuals with specialized expertise, we tend to increase the likelihood that more accurate cause/effect assumptions (theory) will be used in the decision making process.
  3. Alternatives- Groups tend to develop a greater number of potential options and more creative options.

Commitment to decision- This applies especially to individuals responsible for implementing the decision that requires a change of behavior. Individuals contributing to a decision tend to feel greater ownership to the decision, especially when their identities are tied to it. Resistance to change and motivation to ensure that the decision is implemented properly can be increased through participation.

What is the role of the formal leader in managing a group problem solving process?

The first issue for the leader is to define his/her style. This may range from completely autocratic to full participation (see description of styles at the end of this webnote). If the leader opts for some form of group problem solving (CI .. GII), it is important that one individual be assigned as the process leader, or facilitator. This individual has the responsibility of guiding the group through the problem solving process. Here are some guidelines

  1. The leader should decide if he or she desires to take an advocacy role for a particular solution. If so, he or she should have someone else facilitate the problem solving process.
  2. The leader must decide if he or she has the skills to facilitate the process. If not, once again, someone else should take on this role.
  3. Sometimes a process leader (facilitator) emerges as the process progresses. It is important for the leader to turn over the process reigns explicitly, (if it is his or her wish to do so), rather than leave group members confused as to who is in charge of the process.
Group vs. Team

Generally speaking we can differentiate two types of group decision making situations.

In the Group Model, members of the group attempt to arrive at a decision that is satisfactory to each group member, that is, satisfied with respect to his or her individual interest. There is no need or expectation of a common group goal or focus. The only issue is that the decision satisfies the interest of the members acting as individuals or representatives of stakeholder groups.

The Team Model suggests that there is an overriding group goal independent of the goals and interests of the individual members. When the team operative effectively, each member focuses on the unifying team goals, placing his or her interests subservient to the group goal. Other ways in which problem solving group may vary include:

  1. The degree of status differentiation among group members. Are all members at the same organizational level? Is the leader of the team the formal leader of the organizational unit?
  2. Is there an agreed upon decision process? Over time groups tend to develop an decision making or problem solving schema or script. This may be an effective or ineffective process. It is helpful for groups to periodically examine their decision process (double loop learning).
  3. Is the group an actual unit in the organization's structure (all members are part of a department reporting to the same supervisor) or is the group an ad hoc group with members representing many functional areas?
What motivates individuals to adopt a Group goal?
  1. Goal identification- The individual has internalized the group goal as his or her own.
  2. Instrumental motivation- The individual sees some extrinsic personal gain when the group is successful (Group goal based bonus, gainsharing plan, etc.)
  3. Self concept external
    1. The individual social identity is tied to the group and when the group is viewed as success, the individual believe that he or she is viewed as successful by his or her reference group
    2. The individual believes that members of his or her reference group will attribute group success to his or her competencies.
  4. Self concept internal- The individual see group success as a reinforcement or validation of his or her internally held self perception of competencies. Therefore when the group is successful, this success is validation of the individual competencies. This requires that the individual perceives that role that he or she performs has significant impact on group success. (This is the fundamental logic behind job enrichment and participative management.)
Group Decision Making Process

At the outset of the meeting or process the leadership lay out the process being used so that members have an idea of where they are headed.

Problem Identification

Issues:

  1. Group members often want to advance a particular solution or plan. This must be avoided. The more public an individual's "position" becomes, the more committed he or she becomes to it.
  2. When a group member's identity is linked to a particular project, task or function, the form the problem statement takes will affect his or her degree of defensiveness.
  3. The group should focus on goals, behaviors, and outcomes rather than people and personality.
Problem Diagnosis

Develop a model of the problem using the behavior or objective as the dependent variable. The independent variables in the model should represent the potential causes of the problem.Avoid the trap of assessing the blame.

Issues:

  1. Developing a model or construct is an "intuitive" exercise. Once the model is established, it tend to become the basis the remainder of the process. Be sure there is consensus on the model
Solution Generation

Generate a number of possible solutions before starting evaluation.

Issues:

  1. Don't get locked into a limited solution set too early
  2. Work to encourage new and different approaches. Consensual schema often limit the range of alternatives groups consider.
Solution Evaluation and Choice

Evaluation should be based on comparing alternative solutions to constraint set developed in the problem identification phase

Develop strategy for dealing with multiple conflicting criteria: Maximizing versus satisficing

Issues:

  1. The method used to resolve intra-group conflicts is important at this point. The use of forcing (voting), smoothing, withdrawal, compromise, and integrative decision making (win-win) method have different consequence in terms of solution quality, solution acceptance, and group maintenance.
Problem Identification

Development of a plan to implement the change including reducing the expected resistance to the change

Evaluation

Develop strategy to evaluate effectiveness of chosen solution in solving stated problem without creating new problems (Pareto optimality).

Methods or styles of Group Decision-Making*
AI  Autocratic or directive style of problem solving. 
The leader defines problem, diagnoses problem, generates, evaluates and choose among alternative solutions. 
AII Autocratic with group information input 
The leader defines the problem. Although the leader diagnoses the cause of the problem, the leader may use the group as an information source in obtaining data to determine cause. Using his or her list of potential solutions, the leader may once again obtain data from the group in evaluation of these alternatives and make a choice among them. 
AIII  Autocratic with group's review and feedback. 
The leader defines the problem, diagnoses its causes, and selects a solution. The leader then presents his or her plan to the group for understanding, review, and feedback 
CI  Individual Consultative Style 
The leader defines the problem and share this definition with individual members of the work group. The leader solicits ideas regarding problem causes and potential solutions. The leader may also use these individuals expertise in evaluation of alternative solutions. Once this information is obtained, the leader makes the choice of which alternative solution to implement. 
CII  Group Consultative Style 
Same as CI, except the leader shares his or her definition of the problem with the group as a whole. 
GI  Group Decision Style 
Leader shares his or her definition of the problem with the work group. The group them proceeds to diagnose the causes of the problem. Following diagnosis, the group generates, evaluates, and chooses among solutions. 
GII  Participative Style 
The group as a whole proceeds through the entire decision making process. The group defines the problem and performs all other functions as a group. The role of the leader is that of process facilitator. 
GIII Leaderless Team
The group has no formal leader, but rather is assembled as a leaderless team. If no substitute for task leadership, or process leadership is present, a process leader often emerges. This person may change from problem to problem. The group generates its own problem definition, performs its own diagnosis, generated alternatives, and chooses among alternatives. 

* Adopted from Vroom, V.H. & Yetton, P.W. 1973. Leadership and Decision Making. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press


 
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