The most common form of group decision making takes place in interacting groups. In these groups, members meet face to face and rely on both verbal and non-verbal interaction to communicate with each other. But as our discussion of group think demonstrated interacting groups often censor themselves and pressure individual members toward conformity of opinion, Brainstorming, the nominal group technique and electronic meetings have been proposed as ways to reduce many of the problems inherent in the traditional interacting group.
Brainstorming is meant to overcome pressures for conformity in the interacting group that retard the development of creative alternatives. It does this by utilizing an idea generation process that specifically encourages any and all alternatives while with holding any criticism of those alternatives.
In a typical brainstorming session, a half dozen to a dozen people sit around a table. The group leader states the problem in a clear manner so that it is understood by all participants. Members then ‘freewheel’ as many alternatives as they can in a given length of time. No criticism is allowed, and all the alternatives are recorded for later discussion and analysis. One idea stimulates other and judgment of even the most bizarre suggestion is withheld until later to encourage group members to think the unusual.
Brainstorming may indeed generate ideas, but not in very efficient manner. Research consistently shows that individuals working alone will generate more ideas than a group will in a brainstorming session. Why? One of the primary reasons is because of ‘production blocking’. In other words, when people are generating ideas in a group, there are many people talking at once, which block the thought process and eventually impede the sharing of ideas. The following two techniques go further than brainstorming by offering methods that helps arrive at a preferred solution.
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 meetings, but members operate independently. Specially, a problem is presented and then the following steps take place.
1. Members meet as a group but before any discussion takes place, each member independently writes down ideas on the problem.
2. After this silent period, each member presents one idea to the group. Each member takes a turn, presenting a single idea until all ideas have been presented and recorded. No discussion takes place until all ideas have been recorded.
3. The group now discusses the idea for clarification and evaluates them.
4. Each group member silently and independently rank orders the ideas. The idea with the highest aggregate ranking determines the final decision.
The chief advantage of the nominal group techniques is that it permits the group to meet formally but does not restrict independent thinking as does the interacting group. Research generally shows that nominal groups outperform brainstorming groups.
The most recent approach to group decision making blends the nominal group technique with sophisticated computer technology. It’s called the computer assisted group or electronic meeting. Once the technology is in place, the concept is simple. Up to 50 people sit around a horseshoe shaped table, empty except for a series of computer terminals. 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. The proposed advantage of electronic meetings are anonymity, honesty, and speed participants can anonymously type any message they want it flashes on the screen for all to see at the push of a participant’s board key. It also allows people to be brutally honest without penalty. And it’s supposedly fast because chit-chat is eliminated, discussions don’t digress, and many participants can ‘talk’ at once without stepping on one another’s toes. The early evidence however, indicates that electronic meetings don’t achieve most of their proposed benefits. Evaluations of numerous studies found that electronic meetings actually led to decreased group effectiveness required more time to complete tasks, and resulted in reduced member satisfaction when compared to face-to-face groups. Nevertheless current enthusiasm for customer mediated communication suggests that this technology is here to stay and is only likely to increase in popularity in the future.