Statistical Process Improvement
Georgetown University
 
   

 

Effective Teams through Better Group Processes


This section reviews how meeting process can and has been changed to make teams more effective and efficient.  We review published literature regarding what works and when.  In a later section, we use this literature to recommend an ideal meeting process. 

Introduction

Would you like to have shorter more productive team meetings?  This session will help you learn how to do so.  First, we review some of the most commonly used approaches to structured group meetings.  We discuss what works and why.   We also review the shortcomings of these approaches.

Next, we present a new approach called Integrative Group Process (IGP). This approach uses parts and pieces known to help teamwork.  We give a step by step guide to IGP.

Objectives

  • Describe key structured group processes, their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Describe what leads to more effective meetings.

  • Describe steps in Nominal, Delphi, Group Communication Strategy and Integrative Group Process.

Nominal Group Process

 

What is the idea?

The Nominal Group Technique (Delbecq, Van de Ven and Gustafson, 1975) is a generic name for face-to-face group techniques in which instructions are given to group members not to interact with each other except at specific steps in the process. The following are the steps in the process.

Steps In Nominal Group Process:

  1. Silent idea generations,
  2. Round-robin sharing of ideas,
  3. Feedback to the group,
  4. Explanatory group discussion,
  5. Individual re-assessment, and
  6. Mathematical aggregation of revised judgments.

The Nominal Group Process produces a prioritized list of ideas in 2 hours or less.

Does it work?

It does. Research on the Nominal Group Technique is extensive and shows that in numerous circumstances the process produces better results than unstructured group interactions (Campbell, 1966; Dunnett, Campbell, and Jaastad, 1963; Vroom, Grant, and Cotton, 1969; Gustafson, Shukla, Delbecq, and Walster, 1973; Van de Ven, 1974; Stumpf, 1978). Data suggests the following three principles for why Nominal group process is successful:

  • First, ideas should not be evaluated one at a time. Rather the facilitator should collect many ideas before any one of them are evaluated. Postponing evaluation increases creative solutions.
  • Second, in estimating numbers, thinking again improves the accuracy of the numbers. A sort of bootstrapping occurs, where the group members best themselves by listening to other group members and revising their own opinions.
  • Finally, individual generation of ideas leads to more ideas and more creative ones than generating ideas while listening to other group members.

Because of these results, the IGP borrows from the Nominal Group Technique silent generation of ideas, postponement of evaluation and revision of numerical estimates after group discussion.

Problem with the process

While the Nominal Group Technique is widely used, it is not intended for all situations. It is especially not intended for tasks that require ordering or judging the worth of several alternatives. In these circumstances, this technique may produce judgments inferior to the judgment of the most knowledgeable group member (Holloman and Hendrick, 1972; Nemiroff, Pasmore, and Ford, 1976). But by far, the most serious problem with the process is that participants feel awkward about restrictions in their interactions. After the group meeting they may feel that the process and not they led them to the conclusions they arrived at. Therefore, they may not be committed to the group's consensus. Data show that Nominal group process is the wrong process when acceptance of the group's conclusions rather than originality is important. Acceptance is crucial as to whether the model is put to use. In these situations, less structured processes produce more widely accepted group decisions than Nominal Group Technique (Stumpf, 1978, Maier and Hoffman, 1964, Miner, 1976).

Delphi Group Process

 

What is the idea?

The Delphi Technique (Dalkey and Helmer, 1963) is a non face-to-face procedure for aggregating group members' opinions. Group members answer three interrelated questionnaires, the facilitator summarizes the responses and mails the synthesis back to the group members for further comment.

Does it work?

In some applications, for example in forecasting technological changes based on insights of a large group of experts, the Delphi method has proven useful (Campbell, 1966; Linstone and Turoff, 1975; Basu and Schroeder, 1977). Delphi is also useful in situations where conflict or status differences among group members are so strong as to be dysfunctional. The most insightful feature of the Delphi process is that a meeting of minds can occur without an actual meeting. Like the Delphi process, IGP relies on remote group interaction.

Problem with the process

Studies show that face-to-face interaction is superior to Delphi's remote and private opinion gathering (Sackman, 1974). Two studies comparing Nominal Group Technique to Delphi found the two techniques about equal (Seaver, 1977; Miner, 1976). In other studies, Delphi has been less accurate than Nominal Group Technique. In one study, for example, Delphi's remote feedback was detrimental and reduced the accuracy of the group members' estimates (Gustafson et al. 1973). Because of this research, IGP obtains individual's ideas remotely like the Delphi process but then subjects these remote and privately generated ideas to face-to-face interaction and improvement.

Group Communication Strategy

 

What is the idea?

The Group Communication Strategy originates from a set of normative instructions proposed by Hall and Watson (1970). These instructions provide the following guidelines for group interaction:

  • Avoid arguing,
  • Avoid win-lose statements,
  • Avoid changing opinions in order to reduce conflict,
  • Avoid conflict-reducing techniques such as majority votes and bargaining.
  • View differences of opinion as natural and initial agreements as suspect.

Does it work?

Nemiroff, Pasmore, and Ford (1976) found that the Group Communication Strategy leads to high quality judgments without sacrificing the group's later acceptance of the judgments. These studies have been done with student subjects in situations where status differences may not exist. Holloman and Hendrick (1972) showed that, when there are large status differences, group members weigh the opinions and suggestions of high status persons more heavily. In groups with marked differences in the status of group members, this process may not do well. Furthermore, little is known about the success of normative instructions in situations where group members are in conflict or have substantial stakes in the final group judgment.

IGP has several steps, one of which involves face-to-face group interaction. During this step, the facilitator uses the guidelines suggested by the Group Communication Strategy.

Problem with the process

Our experience suggests that group members often disagree. We doubt that the Group Communication Strategy could be as effective in work groups with distinct status differences. Additional data is needed concerning the impact of these instructions on group behavior.

Social Judgment Analysis

 

What is the idea?

The Social Judgment Analysis (Hammond et al., 1976) is a group process that provides feedback about how group members judge an issue as opposed to which issue is more popular . It was designed to reduce the pressure for group members to comply with the group's mind set just to feel more accepted by the group. The following are the steps in the process:

  1. Group members meet in face to face meetings, in which they have access to a computer.
  2. Each group member rates a series of scenarios. A scenario is a combination of clues that affect a judgment. For example in judging credit worthiness of companies, the clues may be last year's profit, changes in market share, and management changes. A scenario is constructed by varying levels of these three clues. In the first scenario the company was not profitable last year but has gained a significant market share and its management has been stable. In the second scenario, the company may be profitable but have a small market share and a stable management. More scenarios can be constructed by differing the levels of each clue.
  3. The computer analyzes the group members ratings to see which factors affect the judgment most. This is usually done through regressing the scenario ratings on the elements of or the clues in the scenarios.
  4. The computer informs the group member concerning the results of the analysis: it tells them that the way they rated the scenarios suggests that certain clues are most important in their judgment. It then lists these clues.
  5. Group members often do not agree with the results of the analysis and revise their ratings of the scenarios so that the ratings best fit with what they consider most important.
  6. Once group members come to terms with they way they wish to judge the scenarios, a consensus model is developed and used to represent the group's judgment.

This may seem too much work for most meetings. But with growing use of computers, some of the major meetings of an organization can be organized using the Social Judgment Analysis.

The IGP borrows from the Social Judgment Theory the notion that feedback to the group members should focus on the merits of ideas and not the popularity of the ideas.

Does it work?

Data show that people change their opinion to conform with group norms. While this behavior is healthy for keeping the peace in the group, it is counter productive if ideas are being judged based on the popularity as opposed to their merits. Rohrbaugh's 1979 study showed that when feedback focused on why an idea was preferred as opposed to which idea was more popular, the group's final judgment was more accurate. In particular, in half the groups, the group's judgment was more accurate than the best member of the group.

Rohrbaugh also showed that this group process was more accurate than the Delphi method.

Problem with the process

Availability of computers hinders the full use of this method of conducting group meetings. Furthermore, the effects of this process on the accuracy of the group's judgment has not been replicated by others. Finally, and perhaps the most important the effect of Social Judgment Analysis on acceptance has not been studied. It may be that excessive use of computers and statistical models reduce acceptance as they reduce interaction among group members. On the other hand, a reasonable use may serve to simulate and inform interaction among group members, arouse interest and debate, and may enhance group's acceptance of the final model. More data is needed concerning this process.

Cognitive Mapping

 

What is the idea?

Eden, Jone and Sims (1983) developed a process for modeling how a group arrives at its judgments called Cognitive Mapping. This process starts with constructing two parallel statements of the problem. One showing the factors leading to the problem, the other showing the factors leading to a satisfactory solution. For example, the problem may be stated as "high labor costs," the solution may be stated as "lowering the labor cost." The causes of high labor cost and the factors leading to lowering labor costs are also organized. For example, a cause of the problem may be "shortage of qualified worker." A solution may be "more availability of qualified workers." Clearly, causes of the problem and factors leading to the solutions are related, usually a change of adjectives produces the other. Through linguistic manipulation of the statement of the problem, Cognitive Mapping hopes to stimulate new ideas.

Eden and colleagues, when they use Cognitive Mapping, often collect the group member's ideas about the problem and its solutions separately and then revise these ideas in a face-to-face meeting. Occasionally they quantify the influence of causes and effects through a Round Robin process, where group members write down their estimates and share them afterwards. They, then, simulate how changing one factor may affect the problem. These simulations may lead to new insights into the problem.

The IGP borrows from this process the notion that feedback to the group members should focus on the merits of ideas and not the popularity of the ideas. In addition, both IGP and Cognitive Mapping are built on the notion that group members ideas should be solicited before the actual face to face meeting.

Does it work?

Data show that problem statement has a direct and lasting effect on the solutions that group members can think of. The Cognitive Mapping strategy is unique in insisting that the problem be defined in at least two ways and therefore it allows for alternative perspectives on the problem.

Problem with the process

More data is needed on the effectiveness of this process. In addition, it is not clear whether untrained facilitators can indeed conduct the meetings without substantial training in Cognitive Mapping procedures.

What do we want? Faster meetings. More fun meetings. More productive meetings.

Summary of lessons learned
& principles recommended

 

What has been learned?

There are many group processes. A review of some of these processes creates a bewildering methods of conducting team work. In this section, I review key lasting lessons that has been shown by data to be effective tools for managing teams. Two decades of research on effective group work point to several lessons:

  • Postpone evaluation. It is best to separate idea generation from idea evaluations. When evaluation is postponed, more ideas and more creative ideas emerge.
  • Do it again. It is best to think through the decisions again. In repetition, people gain confidence in what they are doing and can see pitfalls previously missed.
  • Meet before the meeting. It is useful to get input from group members individually, before they can influence each other.
  • Break through group's mind set. It is important to evaluate ideas based on their merit and not based on their popularity.
  • Change the problem frame. It is important to define the problem in different ways.
  • Instruct the group. It is best to instruct group members to keep their heads and accept conflict as productive.

What is borrowed?

  • IGP and the Nominal Group Technique both rely on improving estimates of relative importance of ideas through repetition. Both require the group member to assess, discuss, and revise their numerical estimates. In addition, both approaches postpone evaluation of ideas until the facilitator has collected the ideas of all members.
  • Like Delphi, IGP obtains remote and private opinions. But these remote interactions are followed by face-to-face interactions.
  • In IGP, the facilitator follows the Group Communication instructions as ground rules for group interaction.
  • Both the IGP and the Social Judgment Analysis focus discussion on the group member's reasoning rather than the group's choice and consensus.
  • Like Cognitive Mapping, the IGP facilitator privately solicits individual ideas and revises these ideas in a face-to-face group meeting.

Presentations

To assist you in reviewing the material in this lecture, please see slides and narrated lecture Narrated lecture require use of Flash.  You can also see the same lecture presented in 10 minute segments on YouTube.com.  See below a review of the literature on what works in group processes:

 

The review of the literature continues:

 

Integrative Group Process

The process we recommend for your use is called Integrative Group Process.  It is an eclectic group process based on recent research on teamwork and group interaction literature.  This process has 6 steps (described in more detail in a separate page):

1-Select the best
2-Meet before the meeting
3-Redo the list
4-Rate ideas
5-Discuss major differences
6-Ignore small differences

See below a short discussion of how Integrative Group Process works:

 

For more details on the process, please click here.


Copyright 1996 Farrokh Alemi, Ph.D. Created on Saturday, September 21, 1996. Most recent revision 01/15/2017. This page is part of the course on Quality, the lecture on Effective Teams.