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Formation et résolution de problèmes en groupe dans un milieu organisationnel : un schéma d’observation et d’analyse

Formation et résolution de problèmes en groupe dans un milieu organisationnel : un schéma d’observation et d’analyse

Maurice Landry

Volume : 33-4 (1978)


A Proposed Model for Observing Group Problem Solving

The process of identifying and solving problems in groups in an organization is a very complex phenomenon because of the numerous variables involved.

The most important attempts to link the organization, the decision making process, and the decision maker can be found in the literature pertaining to organization theory and management. Paradoxically, most of the models developed show little interest for group decision making despite the fact that this type of decision making is rapidly increasing in popularity in organizations. Moreover, it is quite astonishing to notice that hardly any of the models have formally emphasized the key part played by the means used to identify problems in an attempt to explain the group decision making process. In this article, we shall stress the identification phase of the process of identifying and solving problems in groups in an organizational setting. Our study does not constitute an overview of the literature; rather, it is the expression of a viewpoint which emanates from the relevant literature.

Each individual perceives the decision making process through his own set of coloured lenses. Like Piaget, we perceive it as a constant state of adaptation in which a person assimilates new knowledge and facts, and adjusts his behavior accordingly. In this context, the person interprets the present and anticipates the future according to his perception of the world around him: in other words, the person is not passively reacting to this environment ; rather, he interacts with it according to his way of seeing it. Furthermore, no two persons perceive the world around them in the same fashion because their backgrounds and antecedents differ. Consequently, we must admit that individual differ in their interpretation of the real world, as well as in the perception of the problems it brings forth.

Organizations exist because people believe they produce synergy: one way of achieving this synergy is through the division of work, the attribution of roles to individuals, and the organization of the lot into a coherent whole. This whole is made up of jobs which contain both a socio-technical aspect as well as a social one. The social element reflects the informal relationships which take place within the organizations. As can be seen, formal contacts create informal groups which exist on account of similarities in jobs, interest and values, or on account of individual and social affinities, or again on account of the meshing of personalities. Thus it is inevitable that these emotional, motivational and political elements influence not only the perceptions of the world, but also the interpretations made by the various individuals or groups.

Problems in an organization do not originate exclusively from the informal social relationships which occur within it ; the socio-technical element mentioned previously also causes difficulties. For instance, when jobs involving several people and requiring that a decision be made have to be carried out, it is easy to understand that certain difficulties will arise, and that the latter will be all the more burdensome that the jobs are poorly defined and unstructured. The individuals have to contend with two major obstacles. The first one is cognitive, and results from the fact that, given the same data, people do not necessarily reach the same conclusions. The second obstacle is emotional and motivational in character, and often leads to divergent preferences with respect to at leastone aspect of the final decision; the problem solving process in groups is therefore complicated further. In fact, a problem arises when something abnormal occurs; the solution to the problem can thus be seen as the use of various means in order to return to a state of normality. Since each person perceives and identifies problems by referring to the world around him as he sees it, a state of normality or abnormality is defined by him according to his own frame of reference.

Bearing in mind the above considerations pertaining to the organization and to the human being, the problem solving process in groups can be described by the following propositions :

• The various ways of perceiving the problem can be more or less blurry, and coincide to a greater or lesser extent ;

• For every perception of normality or abnormality, there are several admissible solutions:

• The greater the degree of coincidence among the various perceptions of the problem, the larger the number of admissible solutions which also coincide, and the easier it is to find a solution acceptable by all ;

• The admissible solutions are not necessarily all known; furthermore, some of the admissible solutions are unacceptable ;

• A perception of abnormality constrains a person within a set of admissible solutions. To avoid solutions which are admissible but unacceptable, one must discern between the personal perception and the stated perception of a problem ;

• There are always at least two levels of problem solving; for each level, the ways and means of moving from an abnormal state to a normal state do not require the same rationality.

The above propositions constitute the basic starting point in the establishment of a contingency table which clearly illustrates problem situations and anticipated resulting from efforts put forth by the group at the « identification » and«  solution » phases of the problem solving process (table 1).

At the end of this paper, we mention other pertinent considerations suggested by our model ; these considerations involve various tactics commonly used in problem solving situations. Here is a partial list of tactics used by a specific negotiator:

• To compel the largest number possible of members of the problem solving group to state as soon as possible their perceptions of the problem in order to confine them to a small number of admissible solutions. These who get caught in such a fashion lose a certain amount of leeway vis-à-vis the other members of the group because they have committed themselves before the others have expressed their point of view.

• To avoid stating his perception of the problem early in order to preserve his amount of leeway for later on; in other words, commit yourself as late as possible if you wish to benefit from the largest amount of information possible.

• To identify those group members whose perception of the problem seems most fuzzy, and attempt to influence their perception in such a way that it becomes similar to y ours; by doing so, you will eventually obtain their support.

• To state a perception of the problem which is directly linked to the solution which you prefer; here you are merely putting to good advantage the sequence in the causal chain.

• To attempt to show that the solution which you prefer is compatible with the way the other members perceive the problem. In short, indicate clearly that your solution is admissible when you take into account the normality expressed by the others.

• To devise a solution not y et considered by the group, but which would stimulate its interest and be compatible with the stated perception of the problem expressed by the others.

• To try to bring together the others' perception of the problem and your own by showing that the other members of the group :

(a) took into account irrelevant data,

(b) ignored or minimized the importance of key elements.

• To weaken the credibility of the stated perception of the problems expressed by the others.

• To attempt to demonstrate that an admissible solution suggested by a member of the group which does not appeal to you leads to a weak or faulty means-end relationship.

• To say that you wish to clarify your stated perception of the problem in order to modify it in such a way that it becomes compatible with some of the solutions suggested by the others and which you are willing to accept.

• To break down the problem into sub-problems which are almost independent, in hopes that the latter will be easier to solve.