FUNCTIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON GROUP DECISION-MAKING

BY RANDY HIROKAWA AND DENNIS GOURAN

 

Apollo 13. http://www.afirstlook.com/movies.cfm

 

Hirokawa and Gouran are convinced that group interaction has a positive effect on the final decision.

 

This prediction is based on the assumptions that the group members who care about the issue are reasonably intelligent; face a challenging task that calls for more facts; new ideas and clear thinking.

 

Both draw an analogy between small groups and biological systems.

 

Small groups are complex living organisms that must satisfy functions such as respiration, circulation, digestion and elimination of bodily waste if they are to survive and thrive in an ever-changing environment.

 

Hirokawa and Gouran see the group decision-making process as needing to fulfil four task requirements, if members are to reach a high quality solution

 

OVERHEAD: The four functions are:

1.    Problem analysis

2.    Goal setting

3.    Identification of alternatives

4.    Evaluation of positive and negative consequences

 

EXAMPLE: VHS APPOLLO 13

 

Cue point: 1:14:20 Ed Harris picks up chalk

Cue point: 1:37:00 “Day 6”

 


ANALYSIS OF THE PROBLEM

 

Group members must take a realistic look at current conditions.

 

Any misunderstanding of the situation tends to be compounded when members make their final decision.

 

Faulty analysis is a failure to recognize a potential threat when one really exists.

 

The nature, extent and probable cause(s) of the problem facing the group must then be addressed.

 

EXAMPLE: Into Thin Air: The 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

·        Past lost of life

·        The death zone

·        The 2pm turnaround time

·        Dependency on bottled oxygen

·        Lack of rescue facilities

 

GOAL SETTING

 

Hirokawa and Gouran regard discussion of goals and objectives as the second requisite (pronounced wreck-quis-ite) function of decision making.

 

If the group fails to satisfy this task requirement, it is likely that personal prejudice or organizational politics will drive the choice rather than reason.

 

EXAMPLE: Into Thin Air: The 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

·        Confusion about who is actually leading

·        Confusion who is the lead guide

·        Personal prejudice of a third failure to reach the summit.

·        Targeted 2pm turnaround time


IDENTIFICATION OF ALTERNATIVES

 

In their original statement of the functional perspective, Hirokawa and Gouran stressed the importance of marshalling a number of alternative solutions from which group members could choose.

 

EXAMPLE: Newspaper article of Female Climbers who aborted the push to the summit due to deteriorating weather conditions.

 

“If no one calls attention to the need for generating as many alternatives as it is realistically possible, then relatively few may be introduced, and the corresponding possibility of finding the acceptable answer will be low".

 

EXAMPLE: Into Thin Air: The 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

·        Using bottled oxygen or not

·        If the guides should use bottled oxygen, or not.

 

EVALUATION OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE CHARACTERISTICS

 

After a group has identified alternative solutions, participants must take care to test the relative merits of each option against the criteria they believe are important.

 

The two theorists say sometimes groups get sloppy and often need one member to remind the others to consider both the positive and negative features of each alternative.

 

EXAMPLE: Into Thin Air: The 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

Overhead.

·        The merging of the three expeditions all together

·        No distinct leader

·        No distinct guide

 

Hirokawa believes that some group tasks have a positive bias, and some have a negative bias. He believes that spotting the favourable characteristics of alternative choices is more important than identifying negative qualities.

 

EXAMPLE: Into Thin Air: The 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

·        The merging of all groups allows more submitting

·        The strongest will summit.

 

PRIORITIZING THE FUNCTIONS

 

The word prioritizing can mean developing a logical progression, or it can refer to deciding what is more important.

 

The theorists maintain that all four functions need to be maintained to maximize the probability of a high-quality decision.

 

EXAMPLE: Into Thin Air: The 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

·        Turning back due to poor weather conditions

 

Hirokawa believes that groups that successfully resolve particularly tough problems often take a common decision making path.

 

EXAMPLE: Into Thin Air: The 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

·        The two leaders started off in agreement

 

OVERHEAD: An effective decision-making path from a functional perspective.

 

THE ROLE OF COMMUNICATION IN FULFILLING THE FUNCTIONS

 

Talk is the medium or conduit through which information travels between participants.

 

Verbal interaction makes it possible for members to

1.    Distribute and pool information

2.    Catch and remedy errors

3.    Influence each other

 

The diagram is clearly marked towards the ultimate goal of a high quality group decision.

 

However, groups can get sidetracked by a number of thorny obstacles. OVERHEAD

1.    Ignorance of the issues

2.    Faulty facts

3.    Misguided assumptions

4.    Sloppy evaluation of options

5.    Illogical inferences

6.    Disregard of procedural norms

7.    Undue influence by powerful members

 

Consistent with these convictions, Hirokawa and Gouran outline three types of communication in decision-making groups OVERHEAD

 

1.    Promotive-interaction that moves the group along the goal path by calling attention to one of the four requisite decision making functions.

 

2.    Disruptive-interaction that diverts, retards, or frustrates group member’s ability to achieve the four task functions.

 

3.    Counteractive-interaction that members use to get the group back on track.

 

The two theorists constructed a Function-Oriented Interaction Coding System (FOICS) that requires researchers to categorize each functional utterance, which is an uninterrupted statement of a single member that appears to perform a specified function within the group interaction process.

 

1)   Which of the four requisite functions if any, does an utterance address?

2)   Does the utterance facilitate (promote) or inhibit (disrupt) the group’s focus on that function?

 

This 4x2 classification provides eight discrete categories of communication.

 

Researchers can then use the data to examine the effect of verbal interaction on the decision outcome.

 

In practice, however, raters find it difficult to agree on how a statement should be coded.

 

A single comment may serve multiple functions. Hirokawa continues to work on redefining the methodology.

 

Many communication scholars endorse the theory as a good model for group discussion and decision-making.

 

They contend that most real-life groups have a prior decision-making history that is embedded within a larger organization.

 

EXAMPLE: Into Thin Air: The 1996 Mount Everest Disaster

·        EVEREST SPONSORS

 

They advocate adding a historical function that requires the group too talk about how past decision were made.

 

They also recommend an institutional function of the power brokers and stakeholders who are not at the table, but whose views clearly affect and are affected by the group decision.

 

VHS: EXAMPLE: Owners pressure on the Captain to have the Titanic reach port early to make the morning papers.

 

 

‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑

 

Sources:

 

VHS/DVD: Alive. Directed by Frank Marshall. Producers Robert Watts and Kathleen Kennedy. Screenplay by John Patrick Shanley. Released by Touchstone Pictures and Paramount Pictures. Based on a 1972 incident involving a chartered plane carrying 32 members friends and family of a Uruguayan rugby team that crash landed in the Andes reroute to Chile. For 72 days, the survivors struggled to prolong their existence, resorting to cannibalism to stay alive. Based on Piers Paul Read’s bestseller

 

VHS/DVD: A Perfect Storm

 

VHS/DVD: Apollo 13

 http://www.afirstlook.com/movies.cfm

 

VHS/DVD: Thirteen Days

 

VHS/DVD: Titanic

 

Chowdhury, Bernie. (2000). The Last Dive. “A Father and Son’s Fatal

Descent into the Ocean’s Depths”. Harper Collins Publishers.      New York. NY.

 

Griffin, Em. (2003). Theory Communication: A First Look at

Communication. “ Functional Perspective on Group Decision-Making”. Fifth   Edition. McGraw-Hill. New York. N.Y.

 

Krakauer, Jon (1997).  Into Thin Air.  Random House. New York,

         N.Y.

 

VHS/DVD: Stand By Me

 

VHS/DVD: Titanic

 

VHS/DVD: Twelve Angry Men Directed by Sidney Lumet. Orion-

Nova Productions 1957.

 


FUNCTIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON GROUP DECISION-MAKING

BY HIROKAWA & GOURAN

 

 

 The four functions are:

1.Problem analysis

2.Goal setting

3.Identification of alternatives

4.Evaluation of positive and negative consequences

 

Consistent with these convictions, Hirokawa and Gouran outline three types of communication in decision-making groups OVERHEAD

 

4.    Promotive-interaction that moves the group along the goal path by calling attention to one of the four requisite decision making functions.

 

5.    Disruptive-interaction that diverts, retards, or frustrates group member’s ability to achieve the four task functions.

 

6.    Counteractive-interaction that members use to get the group back on track.