Using Group Dynamics to Improve Decision Making Meetings One, two, three, YAWN! Inefficient, unproductive meetings may be the single biggest time waster in business. While nobody loves them, meetings are an inescapable part of the workplace. For most, attendance is often mandatory. Managers and CEO's of companies need knowledge relating to the psychology of interpersonal dynamics, in addition to leadership skills, to make the group of associates at any meeting into a team.

Members of a group become more focused, more eager to contribute and more innovative when they get along well. On the other hand, unresolved interpersonal issues can grow into major problems for the company (Eichols, 1997, p. 9). To conduct effective group decision-making sessions, at least two things are necessary.

First you need to be aware of the fundamentals of group dynamics. You can then understand the meaning of what is going on in a meeting besides just the words spoken. Secondly, you need to be able to apply this understanding to avoid problems and capitalize on strengths in order to make group decision making situations more effective. Communication One of the easiest aspects of the group process to observe is the pattern of communication.

The kind of observations we make gives us clues to other important things that may be going on in the group such as who leads, who influences, who likes or dislikes each other, and how positive and optimistic the group members feel about the task and each other (Fisher, 1974, p. 15). 1. Who talks? For how long? How often? 2.

Whom do people look at when they talk? a. individuals, possibly potential supporters b. the group c. nobody 3.

Who responds or who interrupts? 4. What style of communication is used (assertions, questions, tone of voice, etc. )? 5. Body language, posture, gestures, seating arrangement Decision Making Procedures Whether we are aware of it or not, groups are making decisions all the time, some of them without much awareness. It is important to observe how decisions are made in a group in order to assess whether the consequences of given methods are really what the group members bargain for. Group Roles, Task, Maintenance, and Self-Oriented Behavior Behavior in the group can be viewed in terms of what its purpose or function seems to be.

When a member says something, is he or she primarily trying to get the group task accomplished, is he or she trying to improve or patch up some relationship among members, or is the individual primarily meeting some personal need or goal without regard to the groups' problems? Behavioral sets aimed at accomplishing some objective in any of these areas are called roles (Frey, 1994, p. 121). The group task is to get the job done. People who are concerned with the task tend to make suggestions as to the best way to proceed or deal with a problem. A task oriented member may attempt to summarize what has been covered or what has been going on in the group. The primary focus of this characteristic is to keep the group on target and prevent the group from straying off on tangents.

Group maintenance roles are types of behavior relevant to the group's remaining in good working order, having a good climate for task work, and good relationships that permit maximum use of member resources. Types of behavior which only serve personal objectives at the expense of the group task accomplishment and maintenance are self-oriented roles. Using Group Strengths The facts discussed above are useful in that they help us zero in on important aspects of the group process which influences decision-making effectiveness. If we are accurate in our process assessments we can combine this knowledge with the inherent strengths and weaknesses of groups and manage them to enhance decision making effectiveness (Eichols, 1997, p. 86). The four advantages of groups over individual approaches to decision making are: 1.

Greater amount of knowledge and information: The sum of the groups' knowledge is obviously greater than any one individual within it. 2. Greater number of approaches: One reason we have difficulty making decisions by ourselves is that we tend to get in ruts, or persist in using an unfruitful approach. In groups the various members approach the problem with a wider array of approaches and avoid persisting in a dead end procedure. 3. Increased acceptance.

: If you make a decision by yourself you must persuade others to go along with you and implement it. Participation in group decision making increases acceptance because group members share the ownership of whatever decision is reached. 4. Better comprehension: Individual decisions must be communicated to others affected by them with many possibilities of distortion and misunderstanding. Communication failures are less likely to occur in groups with all members actively participating in the process. Avoiding Group Weaknesses Although groups have many quality and acceptance advantages if their strengths are capitalized on, there are four distinct weaknesses which can hinder the process (Fisher, 1974, p.

30)... These liabilities are: 1. Social Pressure: There is pressure exerted on group members to conform to the opinion of the majority in order to avoid interpersonal conflicts. The desire to be accepted as one of the gang and not rock the boat has been referred to as "groupthink" because often better solutions are suppressed in the process. 2. Momentum: In group discussions of alternatives, each receives both supportive and critical coments.

Typically after a decision alternative has been reached with 15 or more positive comments, higher quality solutions introduced later on have little chance of being adopted. 3. Individual domination: In most groups a dominate person emerges. This individual because of position, persuasive ability, persistence, or whatever has more influence on the decision made, but there is no direct relationship between power and quality. A better decision maker may not have enough influence to get alternatives heard. 4.

Winning the argument: The goal of decision making groups is to make the best decision for all concerned. Once an individual has expressed preference for one alternative, however, the conflicting secondary goal of winning the argument often emerges. Because of personal ego involvement, the committed person wants to convert others and gain support for his publicly expressed preference. Team Meeting Dynamics at My Company My particular company has the worst meetings I have ever attended. They are long, unfocused, and the net result is usually a new rumor for the water cooler.

At this juncture I am not in a position to change the meetings. The owner has asked me what my views were of the meetings. Perhaps instead of a YAWN, I can utilize some of the above mentioned techniques and gently assist. Through the understanding of group dynamics for meetings my company could use time more efficiently and experience higher productivity through clear direction and messages. Ultimately achieving the goal requires working together. Guidelines for Conducting Effective Meetings Many group members agree that nearly half their time spent in meetings is wasted.

If this problem could be even partially corrected, time could be recaptured to be used on more productive tasks (Frey 1994, p. 305). Consider the following questions: 1. Was the meeting really necessary? 2. Could the meeting have been handled in another manner (memo, conference call, etc. )? 3.

Could the meeting have been postponed to a non primetime hour? Assuming that a meeting is necessary, whether called by you or someone else, follow these guidelines to avoid wasting time and to make your meetings more productive: 1. Define the exact purpose of the meeting. Make sure that all attendees are informed in advance in writing concerning what is to be decided at the meeting. 2. Distribute an agenda in advance of the meetings to all attendees. 3.

Limit the time for the meeting. Have a specific starting time and ending time. 4. Stick to the items on the agenda. Avoid interruptions and discussion that spins off from the agenda. 5.

After the meeting, summarize in writing what was decided and distribute it to all attendees. If any actions are to be undertaken as a result of the meeting, make sure that everyone knows who is to do what by when. 6. Choose a good place for your meeting. Proper ventilation, comfort, accessibility of equipment are very important. 7.

After the meeting, expedite the distribution of meeting minutes so that they are in the hands of all the attendees no later than two days after the end of the meeting. Conclusion Individual and group behavior is complex, difficult to understand and even more difficult to manage. Understanding the dynamics can help change a company from working as a "group" of individuals, each doing their own part, to operating as an energized powerful, cohesive team. Effective teams are made up of members who are not only competent, but also good at collaborating with one another to reach their common objective. References Eichols, M. (1997).

Business relationships: The dynamics of teamwork. Kirkland, WA: PDP Inc. Fisher, B. A.

(1974). Small group decision making. New York: McGraw Hill. Frey, L. R.

(1994). Group communication in context. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. , Publishers.