Principles of Group participation

Research on small groups has indicated several principles of group participation that provide guides for group interaction.

1. The physical layout, size of group, and general atmosphere are important factors determining the effectiveness of problem solving. For example, a meeting located n the boss’s office will be entirely different from one held in a “neutral” conference room. If the committee has only three members, it may not have enough “interaction”; if the committee has thirty members, it is not possible for each member to participate freely.

2. Threat reduction is an important objective in the planning for group action so that the group will shift from interpersonal problems to group goals. Any tendency to put a member “on the spot” or to force him to “take sides” will increase the debating society feeling and will result in an increase of tension.
3. The best group leadership is performed by the entire group and is not the job of the “chairperson”, “secretary,” or other formal leader. A group that functions well tends to function informally, with no single person providing all the leadership. Leadership may shift, and different types of leaders may evolve. One member may serve as the social leader another may serve as “questioner,” another may act as “clarifier” or “summarizer” and so forth.
4. Goals should be explicitly formulated by the group. The group should refrain from being “fenced in” by predetermined rules. The objective is to increase the involvement of each member in the decision making process.
5. An agenda should be formulated by the group but should be changed as new goals develop from new needs. Preplanning for meetings should retain flexibility so that the group maintains its ability to meet issues as it perceives them.
6. The decision making process should continue until the group formulates a solution upon which it can form a consensus. If the group action results in a minority opinion, the group has failed to maximize its effectiveness. In a group that emphasizes this principle, there is no formal voting. Discussions continue until no one in the group can add any improvements to the solution.
7. Any group should be made aware of the interaction process by which the group arrives at solutions. In this manner, the skill of being a member of the group becomes a distinguishable skill that the executive can develop. This principle leads to the idea that group action is an important subject for study; continual evaluations should be made of group processes.

Note that these principles were derived from research in the 1950s in the United States; however, not many American firms seriously attempted to apply them until recently. But with the obvious success of their practice in Japan, American firms are eager to try Japanese approaches especially quality circles and the stress on seeking consensus. The Japanese ringi system of decision making has received less attention. This approach involves the horizontal participation by a number of middle mangers prior to consideration by top management, represents a device for knitting together as many people as possible in decision making.

In 1985, prior to the construction of the new Saturn plant in Tennessee, General Motors Corporation reached an agreement with the United Automobile Workers union that radically changed organization structure and joint decision processes with management and labor. All levels involve committees with both management and labor participants. At the top is a strategic advisory committee composed of middle management joint committees, business units, work unit modes as well as a work unit of 6 to 15 workers led by an elected UAW counselor. After 30 years practicing mangers are recognizing the value of group-decision processes and many of the principles outlined above. The immediate cause for this change was the desire to reduce the several thousand dollar cost advantage held by the Japanese in the production of small cars.

Decisions vary as to their complexity and importance, whether they are made primarily by individuals or by groups. The more complex and important is a decision, the greater the need for useful decision rules. The complexity of a decision increases as the number of variable to be considered increases, as the degree of uncertainty increases, and as more value judgments are required. The importance of a decision increases when more decisions are dependent on it, when more subordinates are involved, and when the financial consequences are more critical.

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