Group Decision Making
Group decisions can be an arduous and complex process. Communication professors Randy Hirokawa and Dennis Gouran offer a functional perspective on how group interaction can have a positive effect on decision-making. In addition, they make an analogy between biological systems and small groups, both needing to survive and thrive in an evolving environment. As functional perspective illustrates the wisdom of joint interaction, Hirokawa and Gouran (2000) view the group decision-making process as needing to fulfill four task requirements if members are to reach high quality decisions, as cited in (Griffin, 2000). The four functions for effective decision-making are (1) problem analysis, (2) goal setting, (3) identification of alternatives, and (4) evaluation of positive and negative consequences (Griffin, 2000).
First, a group must realistically look at the situation and analyze the problem. According to Hirokawa, after a group acknowledges a need to be addressed, they still must figure out the nature, extent, and probable causes of the problem that confronts the group (Griffin, 2000). Second, a group must set goals and objectives in order to establish criteria by which to judge proposed solutions. Without establishing goals, Hirokawa and Gouran believe that personal prejudice or organizational politics will drive the choice rather than reason (Griffin, 2000). Next, group members must identify their alternatives. Alternatives provide group members options from which they can pick and choose. Once the group has identified alternative solutions, they must determine the positive and negative features of each alternative. Hirokawa states that some groups have a positive bias, spotting favorable characteristics of alternative choices is more important than identifying negative qualities. While other group tasks have a negative bias, the
unattractive characteristics of choice options carry more weight than the positive attributes (Griffin, 2000).
Communication is best when it does not obstruct or distort the free flow of ideas. Hirokawa and Gouran outline three types of communication in decision-making groups (Griffin, 2000). The first type is promotive, interaction that calls attention to one of the four decision-making functions. The promotive type is highly desirable. The second type is disruptive, interaction that detracts from the group’s ability to achieve the four task functions. This hinders the group, causing the decision-making process to slow down. The third type is counteractive, interaction that refocuses the group. This is an effort to keep the group "back on track." Since most communication disrupts, effective group decision-making depends upon counteractive influence (Griffin, 2000).
Hirokawa’s Function-Oriented Interaction Coding System (FOICS) classifies each functional utterance, "an uninterrupted statement of a single member that appears to perform a specified function within the group interaction process," for analysis (Griffin, 2000). Raters are asked to make two judgments. 1-Which of the four requisite functions does an utterance address? 2- Does the utterance promote or disrupt the group’s focus? Researchers can then use the data to examine the effect of verbal interaction on the decision outcome (Griffin, 2000). Although, messages can serve as multiple meanings, Hirokawa continues to refine his methodology. As a social scientist, Hirokawa tested his functional perspective over the last two decades in more than a dozen controlled laboratory studies (Griffin, 2000). Hirokawa and Gouran give practical advice for amateurs and professionals to be skeptical of personal opinion and not to depend on unsupported intuitions. The theorists also attribute their four requisite functions to philosopher John Dewey and his six-step process of reflective thinking. However, Hirokawa and Gouran’s functional perspective theory has been criticized for its mixed experimental results, the exclusion of political and social factors, and an emphasis that most real-life groups have prior decision-making history are embedded within larger organizations (Griffin, 2000).
Hirokawa and Gouran’s theory is based on an objective approach.
Explanation of Data
Functional Perspective on Group Decision Making explains how small groups can effectively make a decision without chaos. By fulfilling Hirokawa and Gouran’s four task requirements, group members are able to interact in a positive manner to achieve the best solution possible. In the book, Griffin uses the example of a committee and their hiring process as a means of explaining how this theory works. While utilizing these four task requirements, the committee was able to select the best possible candidate for the position.
Prediction of Future
A good objective theory predicts what will happen. Without analyzing the problem, setting goals, having alternatives, or weighing the pros and cons of the alternatives, we can predict that group members will face many challenges upon making effective decisions.
Hirokawa and Gouran offer simple solutions for group members to follow when making decisions. Hirokawa speaks of quality solutions while Gouran refers to appropriate decisions. Furthermore, I concur that this theory exhibits a well organized and a simplistic ideology for group members to implement in their communication process.
Hirokawa is a social scientist that firmly believes in testing the theory. His experimental methodology allowed Hirokawa to conduct research designed to test the functional perspective. The results supported the functional perspective. Furthermore, the theorist concludes that group decision-making performance is dependent more on the quality of statements rather than the quantity of utterances.
Functional Perspective on Group Decision Making offers practical help to groups by providing tools to improve organizational communication, group cohesiveness while acquiring solutions and decisions that are most beneficial to the group.
In my studio practicum class, our instructor gave us an assignment in which we are to
form our own groups and produce a show that is to be aired on a television station. Clara, Mike, and I formed our group and came up with an idea for the show. At our first meeting, we agreed upon our show idea and set objectives of how we were going to produce it. We used
brainstorming as a method to develop different ways to produce the show. We also thought about the positive and negative aspects to each idea presented in order to determine which would work best. At our second meeting, Mike informs us that the agreed upon show topic was too hard to produce and wanted to do something else. He then suggested another show idea that both Clara and I did not like. From that moment on, our group was thrown off track. As group members, we became frustrated with one another. Using the counteractive type of communication, I was able to assure Mike that our show idea could be done as long as we follow what we had originally planned. Clara agreed and further gave Mike a simplistic view of our original plan. Mike finally agreed and our group was able to refocus. Following Hirokawa and Gouran theory proved to be both useful and beneficial in our group decision-making process.
The four functions described in this theory are absolutely crucial for groups to survive and thrive in the decision making process. Even though this theory is based on group settings, I see that it can be used for individuals as well. When I am overwhelmed with problems, I tend to shut down and become paralyzed in a web of fear. This theory helps me to make effective decisions for myself. By breaking my problems down and applying these four steps (problem analysis, setting goals, identifying alternatives, and evaluating the positives and negatives of each alternative), I do not feel so overwhelmed. I know that in any situation, I can look back at this theory and find a solution that is best suited for me. In the last analysis, I conclude that this theory is not only useful within group settings but also in personal situations of every day life.
Griffin, E. (2000). A First Look at Communication Theory (4th Ed.).
Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
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