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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Techniques of Decision Making In Groups - Group Behavior

Schein (1988) observes that groups may make decisions through any of the following six methods:

Ø  Decision in lack of response – In this type of decision making, ideas are forwarded without any discussion taking place. When the group finally accepts an idea, all others have been bypassed and discarded by simple lack of response rather than by critical evaluation.
Ø  Decision by authority rule – The leader makes a decision for the group, with or without discussion.
Ø  Decision by minority rule – Two or three people are able to dominate the group into making a decision to which they agree.
Ø  Decision by majority rule – Here, viewpoint of the majority is considered as the group’s decision.
Ø  Decision by consensus – One alternative is accepted by most members and the other members agreeing to support it.
Ø  Decision by unanimity – All group members agree totally on the course of action to be taken. This is a “logically perfect” group decision method that is extremely difficult to attain in actual practice. 

The most common form of group decision-making takes place in face-to-face interacting groups. Interacting groups often censor themselves and pressure individual members toward conformity of opinion. Once a manager has determined that a group decision approach should be used, he or she can determine the technique best suited to the decision situation. Seven techniques are summarized below:

1. Brainstorming: Brainstorming is a good technique for generating alternatives. The idea behind brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible, suspending evaluation until all of the ideas have been suggested. Participations are encouraged to build upon the suggestions of others, and imagination is emphasized. Brainstorming is meant to overcome pressures for conformity in the interacting group that retard the development of creative alternatives. Groups that use brainstorming have been shown to produce significantly more ideas than groups that do not. In a typical brainstorming session, about 6 to 10 people sit and discuss the problem. The group leader states the problem in a clear manner, so that all participants understand it. No criticism is allowed, and all the alternatives are recorded for later discussion and analysis.

One recent trend is the use of electronic brainstorming instead of verbal brainstorming in groups. Electronic brainstorming overcomes two common problems that can produce group-brainstorming failure:

i) Production Blocking: While listening to others, individuals are distracted from their own ideas. This is referred to as production blocking.
ii) Evaluation Apprehension: Some individuals suffer from evaluation apprehension in brainstorming groups. They fear that others might respond negatively to their ideas.
iii) Brainstorming, however, is merely a process for generating ideas.

2. Nominal Group Technique (NGT): The nominal group technique restricts discussion or interpersonal communication during the decision-making process, hence the term 'nominal'. Group members are all physically present, as in a traditional committee meeting, but members operate independently. NGT has the following discrete steps:

i) Individuals silently list their ideas.
ii) Ideas are written on a chart one at a time until all ideas are listed.
iii) Discussion is permitted, but only to clarify the ideas. No criticism is allowed.
iv) A vote is taken by ballot or other recordable means.

NGT is a good technique to use in a situation where group members fear criticism from others. The chief advantage of the NGT method is that it permits the group to meet formally but does not restrict independent thinking, as does an interacting group.

3. Delphi Technique: The Delphi technique originated at the Rand Corporation to gather the judgements of experts for use in decision-making. The Delphi method is similar to the nominal group technique except that it does not require the physical presence of the group's members. Experts at remote locations respond to a questionnaire. A co-ordinator summarizes the responses to the questionnaire, and the summary is sent back to the experts. The experts then rate the various alternatives generated, and the co-ordinator tabulates the results. The following steps characterize the Delphi technique.

i) The problem is identified and members are asked to provide potential solutions through a series of carefully designed questionnaires.
ii) Each member anonymously and independently completes the questionnaire.
iii) Results of the questionnaire are compiled at a central location, transcribed, and reproduced.
iv) Each member receives a copy of the results.
v) After viewing the results, members are again asked for their solutions.

4. Electronic Meetings: This method blends the nominal group technique with sophisticated computer technology. Issues are presented to participants and they type their responses onto their computer screen. Individual comments, as well as aggregate votes, are displayed on a projection screen.

5. Devil's Advocacy: In this method, an individual or a group is given the role of critic. This person(s) (called Devil's Advocate) has (have) the task of coming up with the potential problems related to a proposed decision. This helps organizations avoid costly mistakes in decision making by identifying potential pitfalls in advance.

6. Quality Circles and Quality Teams: Quality circles are small groups that voluntarily meet to provide input for solving quality or production problems. Quality circles are often generated from the bottom up; that is, they provide advice to managers, who still retain decision-making authority. As such, quality circles are not empowered to implement their own recommendations. They operate in parallel, 'dotted-line' linkages to the organization's structure, and they rely on voluntary participation.
Quality teams, in contrast, are included in total quality management and other quality improvement efforts as part of a change in the organization's structure. Quality teams are generated from the top down and are empowered to act on their own recommendations.

Quality Circles and quality teams are methods for using groups in the decision-making process. The next method, self-managed teams take the concept of participation one step further.

7. Self-managed Teams: Self-managed teams make many of the decisions that were once reserved for managers, such as work scheduling, job assignments and staffing. Unlike quality circles, whose role is an advisory one, self- managed teams are delegated authority in the organization's decision-making process.
Before choosing a group decision-making technique, the manager carefully evaluates the group members and the decision situation. Then the best method for accomplishing the objectives of the group decision-making process can be selected. For example:

a) The need for expert input would be best facilitated by the Delphi Technique.
b) Decisions that concern quality or production would benefit from the advice of quality circles.
c) If group members were reluctant to contribute ideas, the nominal group technique would be appropriate.
d) A manager who wants to provide total empowerment to a group should consider the possibility of allowing it to self-manage itself.


According to Irving Janis(1972) , groupthink is "a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment resulting from in-group pressures". Thus, the overemphasis on consensus and agreement leads members to be unwilling to evaluate group members' ideas critically. This hinders decision-making and becomes an obstacle to group productivity. Certain conditions favour the development of groupthink.

i) The first condition is high cohesiveness. Cohesive groups tend to avoid conflicts and to demand conformity.

ii) The second is other antecedents including directive leadership, high stress, insulation of the group and lack of methodical procedures for developing and evaluating alternatives.

A group suffering from groupthink displays recognizable symptoms.

Symptoms of Groupthink and how to Prevent It

Ø  Illusions of invulnerability: Group members feel they are above criticism. This symptom leads to excessive optimism and risk taking.
Ø  Illusions of group morality: Group members feel they are moral in their actions and therefore above reproach. This symptom leads the group to ignore the ethical implications of their decisions.
Ø  Illusions of unanimity: Group members believe there is unanimous agreement on the decisions. Silence is misconstrued as consent.
Ø  Rationalization: Group members concoct explanations for their decisions to make them appear rational and correct. The results are that other alternatives are not considered, and there is an unwillingness to reconsider the group's assumptions.
Ø  Stereotyping the enemy: Competitors are stereotyped as evil or stupid. This leads the group to underestimate its opposition.
Ø  Self-censorship: Members do not express their doubts or concerns about the course of action. This prevents critical analysis of the decisions.
Ø  Peer pressure: Any members who express doubts or concerns are pressured by other group members, who question their loyalty.
Ø  Mind guards: Some members take it upon themselves to protect the group from negative feedback. Group members are thus shielded from information that might lead them to question their action.

Guidelines for Preventing Groupthink

Ø  Ask each group member to assume the role of a critical evaluator by actively voicing objections or doubts.
Ø  Have the leader avoid stating his or her position on the issue prior to the group decision.
Ø  Create several groups that work on the decision simultaneously.
Ø  Bring in outside experts to evaluate the group process.
Ø  Appoint a devil's advocate to question the group's course of action consistently.
Ø  Evaluate the competition carefully, posing as many different motivations and intentions as possible.
Ø  Once consensus is reached, encourage the group to rethink its position by re-examining the alternatives.

1. Social Loafing: Social loafing occurs when one or more group members rely on the efforts of other group members and fail to contribute their own time, effort, thoughts or other resources to a group. This may create a real drag on the group's efforts and achievements. When a group carries out a task, it is harder to attribute the group's output to individual contributions. Some group members may engage in social loafing, or doing less than their share of the work on the assumption that group's results will not indicate the individual's failure to contribute.

A number of methods for countering social loafing exist, such as having identifiable individual contributions to the group product and member self-evaluation systems. For example, if each group member is responsible for a specific input to the group, a members' failure to contribute will be noticed by everyone. If members must formally evaluate their contributions to the group, they are less likely to loaf.

2. Production Blocking: Production blocking is limiting another person's output by getting in his or her way. Production blocking occurs when too many employees are trying to work in a given amount of space or when the organization has poorly planned the use of its facilities. It can also occur when the organization assigns more than the optimal number of employees to carry out a task.

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