The decision making role of groups has been widely recognized and accepted from the time of the Greek empire that formed democratic voting structures and is still in use at the present day. Group decision making can be observed in group such as the legislatures, when they debate on the bill that are to be passed into law; juries, when they pass judgement on defendants and suggest the sentence, or amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff; and school boards decide on the structure of the school curriculum, among others.
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The important decisions are observed to be dependent on the agreement of the involved parties in a group, as opposed to an individual (Satzinger, Garfield, & Nagasundaram, 1999).
Groups are observed to be greater than individuals when it comes to decision making. This is because groups represent a broader variety of perspectives, which makes their arguments fair through provision of numerous materials, upon which decisions can be made.
In addition to this, group decision making is perceived to be better than making of vital decisions by individuals, as portrayed in the notion that “two is better than one”. A lot of research has been conducted on both the fairness and performance of group decisions, to investigate the processes via which groups reach consensus on a solution. The research was also aimed at finding out the effect of the consensus processes on the value and accuracy of the final response (Davis & Hinsz, 1982).
Information processing at group level
Group decision making is a task that is based on individual member inclinations as the legal contribution for the choice of the group. Recent research has begun to observe groups as information processing systems, thereby viewing cognition as an extra legal level of aggregation.
According to Hinsz et al. (1997) information processing at the group level refers to “the degree to which information, ideas, or cognitive processes are shared among group members. Kameda, Tindale, and Davis (2002) have suggested that social sharing is a phenomenon with various levels that are necessary for the understanding of group decision making at the response and cognitive level.
The arguments of the authors above are all focused on one particular aspect of group decision processes and outcomes, and that is the magnificent influence of ideas shared among a majority of the group members. The aspect of social sharing is also dependent on various group features including preferences, information, group identities and metacognitions, among others (Brauner & Scholl, 2000).
The three levels of social sharing are therefore preferences, cognitions and metacognitions. The magnitude of sharing is vital at each level, and is therefore a key factor in knowing how groups reach consensus as well as the decision alternative or judgement position of which the group eventually decides (Abrams, Marques, Bwon, & Henson, 2000).
One of the common forms of group decision making occurs in interacting groups, whereby the group members meet face-to-face and depend on both verbal and nonverbal interaction to communicate with each other. A study of group thinking showed that interacting groups whereby members meet face-to-face, thereby relying on communication by verbal and non verbal interaction are the most common. The study further indicated that interacting groups censor themselves a lot, and pressure individual members toward conformity of opinion (Davis & Hinsz, 1982).
Social Decision Scheme Theory
One of the main problems with group-decision making has been the impact of individual member preferences on the final choice of the group, making individual preferences a main locus of group interaction. This theory suggests that small group interaction are observed to be combinatorial processes, whereby the preferred options by the group members are pooled together to allow the group to arrive at an agreement on one choice, acceptable to all members.
This process of pooling suggestions is dependent on the task of the group, and the environment, among other factors. The theory is based on examining the aggregation process with a view to obtaining the most appropriate summary of the group’s ideas, in any particular setting. This analysis allows candidates of combinatorial processes that may operate in the decision setting to be represented as stochastic matrices referred to as decision schemes (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, & Converse, 1993).
According to the proportionality model, the probability that the members of a group will pick one specific option is the proportion of members favouring that option. The proportionality model assumes that divisions within the group are only as powerful as the relative size of that division (Davis, 1973).
According to the majority-equiprobability otherwise model, whenever the majority of group members favour a particular decision alternative, then that alternative will be the one selected. In the event of an equal split is agreement between any two alternatives, then the selection of either is likely to be the choice of the group. The majority Group equiprobability otherwise model assumes that majority factions are quite powerful and typically define the group’s choice (Godwin & Restle, 1974).
Group decision making techniques
Most of the problems in the traditional interacting group can be eliminated through a variety of ways including brainstorming, nominal group technique, and electronic meetings.
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Brain storming overcomes pressures for conformity in the interacting group that slow down the process of developing creative alternatives by using an idea generation procedure that motivates all the options, while keeping away any criticism of the options. The groups involved in brainstorming are observed to comprise six to twelve members, whereby one of them is the group leader, who informs the other members in a clear manner of the problem proposed.
The next step involves the members providing a variety of alternatives within a limited time period. Criticism is not allowed, and discussions on the ideas are conducted much later to facilitate broad thinking. Brainstorming is more focused on generating ideas than arriving at a preferred solution (Godwin & Restle, 1974).
Nominal group technique
The method requires the presence of all members, though discussions are restricted, so that the members can operate by themselves. Once the problem is presented to the group, the individual members write down their opinions. The next step requires the members to present one idea to the other members, without any interruptions. The next step requires the members to discuss and evaluate the ideas, before voting for them by ranking them in order of most preferable. This method allows groups to meet formally without restricting independent thinking like the interacting groups (Hackman, 1987).
The process involves various people sitting around a horseshoe-shaped table, with nothing except computer terminals through which issues are presented to the members, allowing them to respond by typing. Personal comments and suggestions are shown on a projection screen in the room. The method allows the group members to anonymously provide their input. This promotes honesty, and speed of decision making, since people do not fumble with ideas, but present them for all to see, without much chit chat (Hogg, 2001).
Choice of technique
Based on the main objectives of a particular group, the group members can pick any kind of technique for the group decision making. Interacting groups are preferable where it is necessary to build group cohesion, whereas brainstorming would be appropriate to minimize social pressures.
The nominal group technique is cost effective, and electronic meetings are fast. To control the behaviour of group members, it is necessary to have norms that establish standards of right and wrong. These norms should support high output by encouraging individual performance. Frustration can also kick in due to status inequities, therefore influencing productivity and willingness to remain with an organization (Hinsz, 1999).
The task of the group decides its size, since activities requiring fact finding would appreciate larger groups while action-taking tasks would require smaller groups. According to research conducted on social loafing, it was suggested that measures should be introduced to assess individual performance within a large group (Hastie, 1986).
Conflicts within the group have been observed to arise during the interpretation of group task outcome, as well as the solution scheme. This conflict is usually greater for groups with more members due to more task interpretations. Such conflict is an obstacle that prevents the effective decision making due to disruption of the exchange of information.
Researchers have observed the effective operations of groups based on conflict. Conflict can be used constructively to encourage detailed assessment of the available unique options from individual members by interrogating based on the assumptions made, and therefore arriving at solutions and recommendations (Henrich & Boyd, 1998).
According to (Godwin & Restle, 1974) conflict is multi-dimensional, as opposed to monolithic. Researchers have observed the importance of managing conflicts productively as it affects the performance of the group. Godwin and Restle (1974) observed that cognitive conflict was task oriented, and was as a result of differences in judgement, whereas affective conflict was based on personal disaffection or disagreement.
Hackman (1986) noted that the latter was barrier to the effective functioning of group, though the former could be useful in moderation, and even resulting in improved group performance. Task conflict can be induced in groups via two methods namely devil’s advocacy and dialectical inquiry.
The former refers to the critical scrutiny of the plan or proposal of a group, whereas dialectical inquiry implies the development of counter plans and therefore question assumptions underlying the proposal of the group. Induced task conflicts using the two methods has been observed to result in improved group performance as compare to consensus based groups (Schweiger, Sandberg, & Ragan, 1986). Conflicts arise due to the divergence in goals and interests among the members even though their interests in the outcome are similar. Researchers have argued that conflict can make corporate groups more effective when used effectively.
Use of organizational memory
Group work in organization is nowadays supported by technology. Organizational memory (OM) has been observed to be a key element in the success of group work. OM stores information obtained from previous works of the group members, therefore, facilitates group learning, offers justification for group decisions and improves the efficiency of group decision makers.
Organizational memory has been observed to have the limitation of being biased, since it provides references of past thoughts and suggestions, which may hinder the exploration of diverse viewpoints other than the ones presented. Conflict inducing mechanisms have been observed to solve this problem (Schweiger, Sandberg, & Ragan, 1986).
According to (Hinsz, Tindale, & Vollrath, The emerging conception of groups asinformation processors., 1997), keeping track of previous solutions to organizational problems is beneficial as it saves on time, money and effort. Records can be useful in avoiding paths which have been explored previously and found inappropriate, though such records could result in routine responses to non-routine situations (Grofman, 1986).
The over reliance of groups on knowledge in the memory may result in bias of judgements as a result of the frequency or likelihood of occurrence of an event. Constructive conflicts are effective in overcoming the bias, since the appropriateness of stored information would be debated on relevance with the present situation (Schwenk, 1990).
It has been observed that conflict groups have a higher level of critical assessment and evaluation than consensus groups. Knowledge provided by the OM systems is beneficial in encouraging the group members to evaluate various options, including those evaluated before and recorded.
In addition to this, the level of critical evaluation of the assumptions and recommendations is much higher than that of consensus groups. Dialectical inquiry, DI groups develop counter-plans and seek clarification on assumptions, giving them higher levels of critical evaluation as compared to devil’s advocacy, DA groups, which make inquiries on the suppositions of other subgroups without developing counter plans (Satzinger, Garfield, & Nagasundaram, 1999).
The first hypothesis is that conflict-based groups with OM structures will indicate a higher level of evaluation than consensus-based groups with OM structures. In addition to this, groups that create conflict using dialectical inquiry will show higher level of critical evaluation than groups using evil’s advocacy approach.
Conflict-based groups analyze a wider variety of options, examining all the suppositions of knowledge provided from memory, which helps such groups to comprehend the assignment much better and therefore build their confidence when implementing the strategy. Consensus groups relying on memory knowledge may not critically analyze the options, while DI groups are more critical than DA groups (Laughlin, 1996).
This translates to another hypothesis; that conflict-based groups with OM will exhibit greater depth of perception of the decision quality than consensus groups with OM structure. Moreover, DI groups will exhibit greater depth of perception of the decision than DA groups. Induced task conflict is likely to result in arguments over the assumptions based on proof from memory knowledge, leading to improved perception of the decision that is arrived at, as compared to consensus groups, where the debates and evaluations are not as critical.
DA groups are not as critical, leading to faster agreements as compared to DI systems, leading to the assumption that; conflict based groups with the support of OM will show lower levels of agreement than consensus based groups with OM support. Moreover, DI groups will show lower levels of agreement than DA groups (Kameda, Hulbert, & Tindale, 2002).
Research conducted on conflict based groups showed that the members had very low levels of satisfaction with their groups. This was not the case with consensus based groups. This is because the critical analysis in conflict groups creates disharmony and is time consuming, which is likely to cause undesirable effects on the satisfaction of the members, with the whole process. This effect is also likely to occur in DI groups, where the members have to critique suggestions and come up with new ones.
This implies that the decision making process is more meticulous for DI groups than DA groups, implying that; conflict based groups with OM structure will exhibit lower levels of contentment with the decision making process than consensus based groups with OM support. In addition to this, there will be lower levels of contentment with the decision process in DI groups than DA groups (Hollingshead, 1996).
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