Decision Development in Small Groups IV A Typology of Group Decision Paths



    1. Marshall Scott Poole (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin) is associate professor of speech-communication at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
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    1. Jonelle Roth (B.A., University of Illinois) is in the doctoral program in management at Duke University, Durham, NC. This research was supported by grants from the Research Board of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, by the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota, and by the Department of Speech-Communication of the University of Minnesota. We would like to thank Joel Doelger for help in developing the Decision Functions Coding System and the Group Working Relationships Coding System; Susan Schell for advice in the formulation for phase partition rules; Seon-gi Baek for help with statistical analysis; Michael Holmes and Norah West for programming the phase analysis on the computer; and Pat Carron, Joel Doelger, Renee Meyers, Lisa O'Dell, Susan Schell, and Chris Vidovic for help with transcription, coding, and phase diagramming.
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This study develops a typology of decision paths through analysis of 47 recorded decisions. The sample included a wide variety of decisions made by a variety of groups. Recent research has questioned the traditional assumption that all normal groups follow a set, unitary sequence of decision stages. Instead, this research suggests groups may follow multiple sequences in making decisions. Some writers have gone so far as to deny the existence of phases and propose alternative nonphasic formulations. This study sought to generate descriptive data that could help define the range of alternative decision paths and their properties, in the hope that this could help select among the three perspectives on group decision development. The study developed new methods for mapping developmental sequences that made it possible to avoid one of the most troubling problems in prior research—the use of arbitrary time segments to define phases. The resulting typology had 11 different decision paths that fell into three main groups: unitary sequences, complex sequences, and solution-centered sequences. Analysis of this typology supported the multiple sequence model, but also suggested a role for normative unitary models. The study also found that most groups have significant periods of disorganized activity.