Effective Group Problem Solving describes
what you can gain by using participative problem solving in your regular
work group, committee, or volunteer group. It discusses the impressive
achievements of participation-based programs in industry and elsewhere
and provides fair warning to organizations about the disadvantages
they may face if they fail to understand and learn from these programs.
Of greater importance, it presents a process — the Improved
Nominal Group Technique (INGT) — that consists of research-based
rules and procedures that minimize or eliminate the many problems
associated with conventional group procedures.
In America today we are witnessing a movement away from traditional
authoritarian relationships toward high employee involvement in decision-making.
This movement was given a special boost at a White House conference
on productivity in 1983. Most speakers strongly endorsed employee
participation as an effective means for increasing productivity. Representatives
of government, industry, and higher education pointed to various specialized
groups, such as labor-management committees and quality circles, as
being particularly useful (Guzzo, 1984).
This view echoes the findings of Peters and Waterman, who investigated
excellence in America's leading firms. They reported that "excellent
companies treat the rank and file as the root source of quality and
productivity gain. They do not foster we/they labor attitudes"
(1982, p. 14). And Lawrence and Dyer (1983) report the results of
an in-depth study of the recent history of notable firms in seven
basic U.S. industries (automobile manufacturers, steel, hospitals,
agriculture, residential construction, coal, and telecommunications)
that have been confronted by dramatic changes in their operating environments.
They conclude that "although organizations can get by for a time
being only efficient or only innovative, over the long term there
must be a simultaneous achievement of both efficiency and innovation
… Member involvement is essential to the simultaneous achievement
of both efficiency and innovation" (p. 267).
Effective Group Problem Solving will reveal
how improved group problem-solving procedures can contribute significantly
to achieving high employee involvement, increasing productivity, and
In the larger community in which we live, both citizens and responsible
officials have been frustrated by the inadequacies of conventional
means for gathering and using informed public opinion on the social
needs and complex problems confronting us. The kind of informed involvement
that characterized our best town meetings of the past has become a
casualty of modern, complex society. Today, large public meetings
often succumb to dominant oratory, or degenerate into shouting matches,
or simply flounder in the common frustration of many would-be contributors
confronting too-little time. We are losing what Susan Mohrman (1979)
calls political access: the ability to raise
issues and the ability to seriously attend to those issues. This is
a significant social problem because most people value having real
opportunities to influence decision-making when they want them more
than participation in and of itself.
Effective Group Problem Solving will describe
how viable, consultative democracy can be introduced and sustained
in both the workplace and in the larger community. We will observe
the paradox of anonymity strengthening democracy by enhancing our
individuality and see how we can be more productive by understanding
the limits of our objectivity and the specific measures we can take
to compensate for these limits.
of the Contents
Chapter One explains why we should encourage participative problem
solving. Chapter Two details problems commonly associated with conventional
approaches to encouraging participation, and Chapter Three presents
the nine principles underlying the rules and procedures of INGT and
the reasons for their importance.
The next seven chapters provide details concerning the implementation
of these improved rules and procedures and explain how they relate
to the following objectives: identifying and prioritizing problems,
positions, or options; solving a particular problem (when no standard
solution is available); and debugging or refining a written proposal
or other document.
Chapters Four and Five deal with setting the stage for full participation.
They explain the importance of anonymity, of defining purpose realistically,
and of a permanent display record, and they describe how to save valuable
meeting time by using important pre-meeting preparation.
Chapter Six discusses how a meeting should be conducted. It stresses
the pitfalls of premature evaluation or criticism of ideas and the
advantages of providing real opportunities for discussion. It shows
how to keep discussions on track by controlling personal conflict
and chronic time wasting, without undermining full participation.
Chapter Seven presents several useful ways to handle voting.
Chapter Eight presents the special characteristics and uses of the
document review meeting, which is designed for debugging or refining
a written proposal or other document. Chapter Nine traces the steps
involved in implementing successful community-wide or organization-wide
program planning, including an explanation of how to meld the output
of two or more groups. Chapter Ten provides a summary and review of
the entire INGT process.
Chapter Eleven explores key problem areas of management by objectives
programs and shows how INGT can be used to deal with them. Chapters
Twelve and Thirteen show how to gain the greatest advantages for the
problem-identification and problem-solving activities of autonomous
work groups, employee-employer boards, quality circles, survey feedback
meetings, bargaining teams, confrontation meeting committees, project
teams, volunteer venture teams, job-redesign teams, and Scanlon, Rucker,
Improshare, and multiple-management plan committees.
Chapter Fourteen on organization development lists the basic requirements
for successful collaborative diagnosis and problem-solving efforts
and shows how INGT uniquely satisfies these requirements. Chapter
Fifteen shows how to apply INGT to enhance the effectiveness of audio,
video, and computer teleconferences, and Chapter Sixteen explores
two other areas that may benefit from the principles and procedures
of INGT: international relations and one-on-one relationships.
The book concludes with suggestions for preparing to lead your first
meeting and a test for checking your understanding of the key rules
and procedures of INGT.
procedures outlined in this book differ significantly from everyday
practice. Some of them may seem strange at first, but each plays an
important role, for reasons that will be explained. Most participants
who have tried them like them and prefer them over their present procedures.
Have your group try them out on a matter of importance without omitting
or changing anything. I believe that the results will speak for themselves
The important role that process plays in group problem solving was
first brought home to me by Norman R. F. Maier. He was deeply interested
in the constructive sharing of influence, and I was fortunate enough
to be a student of his at the University of Michigan. Because of his
influence, the topic of my doctoral dissertation was "An Experimental
Study of Group Reaction to Two Types of Conference Leadership."
I have received invaluable assistance in developing this manuscript.
Among those who have read it and then provided encouragement and many
useful suggestions are Chris Argyris of Harvard University, Nancy
Badore of Ford's Organization Development and Management Training
Division, Alan Filley of the University of Wisconsin, Sud Ingle of
Quality Circle Services, Tapas Sen of AT&T's Human Resources Division,
and James Showkeir of TRW's training and development staff.
I am particularly indebted to Eric Trist, who has contributed so much
to the quality of work-life worldwide, and to Richard Mason of Southern
Methodist University for challenging me to make more of this undertaking
than I otherwise would have and for pointing the way. I would also
like to thank Marlene Baccala, who kept the word processor humming.
Last, but in no way least, my wife, Else, has been a constant helpmate
and an inspiration.
William M. Fox