the many frustrations that go with conventional group problem solving,
studies show that the benefits gained are usually worth the effort.
Typically, several concerned and knowledgeable people will outperform
one person in solving problems which do not have standard solutions.
it increases understanding and commitment, participation increases
the likelihood of good solutions and of their effective implementation.
Participation helps us to know the whys as well as the whats that
are involved. It gives us a personal stake in what happens.
Other benefits of participation are enhanced team spirit, increased
respect for an acceptance of the leader, and increased self-respect.
We turn now to some concrete evidence.
People Want to Participate
Sirota (1969) surveyed IBM employees in forty-six countries about
the type of supervision preferred. Consultation and joint decision
making were clearly favored. Samuel (1972) obtained a similar result
when he surveyed several hundred employees in nineteen organizations,
representing six different industrial settings. Those surveyed indicated
a practically uniform desire for greater participation, collaboration,
and mutual responsiveness
than they were getting. Lawler, Renwick, and Bullock (1981) found
that a group of 2,300 employees wanted significantly more influence
over work-related decisions. A survey by IDE Research Group (1981)
of 8,828 employees in 134 establishments in twelve countries found
a desire for greater involvement in work-related decisions on the
part of foremen and middle managers as well as workers.
Surveys show that a large group of priests and nurses also feel this
way. A survey of 801 priests indicated that perceived influence in
determining policies and actions was the most important factor associated
with their satisfaction (Carey, 1972). Seventy-five percent of a group
of 197 supervisory and non-supervisory nurses, from all departments
and levels in two urban hospitals, indicated that they felt deprived
of participation on the job (Alutto and Vredenburgh, 1977).
These and other studies make it clear that there is an increasing
demand on the part of better educated and rights conscious group members
for a bigger role in defining, analyzing, and solving problems that
concern them, both in the community and in the workplace. One survey,
in particular, dramatizes this trend: the percentage of employees
who rated their managements favorably dropped from 40 percent in 1975-79
to just over 20 percent in 1980-84 (O'Boyle, 1985). Undoubtedly, reluctance
on the part of managers to share influence is a key reason for this
decline. As Lawler observes: "People are becoming less comfortable
with a society in which work organizations are autocratic while the
political and other features of their lives are democratic" (1986,
Participation Produces Better Results
On the average, several people will produce more and better solutions
to a non-routine problem than will a single person. This is the conclusion
of a review of research studies that compare individual problem solving
with conventional group problem solving (Shaw, 1976). Participation
by group members facilitates understanding. Good solutions and challenging
goals are valuable only to the extent that they are understood. Participation
setting and in problem solving increases our understanding of what
is to be done and of how it is to be done
(Latham and Saari, 1979).
Even when solutions or goals are well understood, they have limited
value unless they are fully accepted. High commitment distinguishes
superior performers from poor performers, highly satisfied performers
from dissatisfied performers. Participation in group problem solving
is one of the most effective means for gaining commitment. We have
abundant research evidence to support this conclusion, as the following
studies, conducted in a variety of work environments, demonstrate.
A Pajama Factory
Workers on an incentive piecework system were making pajamas for a
market characterized by strong price competition and seasonal style
changes. The company had a history of fair dealings, so it had enjoyed
good labor relations since its founding.
The economic need for regularly changing the details of work and for
shifting workers about was apparent to all. Yet, many workers reacted
to change by quitting, or by taking more time than an average new
employee needed to reach the standard rate, even though they had only
to relearn at the average rate to receive a bonus.
Management decided to study different ways of dealing with change.
Workers were divided into four groups matched in terms of skill level,
amount of job change required, and degree of group cohesion or "we"
feeling. Only minor changes in work and time standards were involved.
The hand pressers in group I were called together and told by the
production manager why it was necessary to cut costs by simplifying
the product, that sales would be lost if they could not match lower
prices. The minor changes in work and the piecework rate were explained.
Questions were invited and frank answers were given.
The pajama folders in group 2 were called together before any specific
work changes had been decided upon, and the need for cost reduction
was explained as done with group 1. Agreement was
reached that necessary savings could be made through changes in the
work; that representatives of the group would collaborate with management
in determining the changes; and that these representatives would then
master the new procedure, serve as time study subjects for setting
a new rate, and assist in explaining the changes. —
The pajama examiners in groups 3 and 4 were exposed to the same treatment
as group 2, except that every member participated in planning and
implementing the work changes. In view of the pre-study similarity
of the groups and the relatively minor work changes made, the dissimilarities
in their reactions are striking.
Members of group 1 rejected management's changes, despite the realistic
explanations given and management's willingness to answer any questions.
They regarded the changes as arbitrary and unreasonable. Their production
dropped, from a pre-change level of sixty units per hour to fifty
units per hour, and it remained there until the group was broken up
for reassignment thirty-two days after the change.
It was discovered later that the production drop resulted from group
agreement to "get even" with management for its "unfair
action." Three group members quit, there were strong expressions
of aggression against management, and grievances were filed against
the piece rate (which later study showed to be too generous rather
than too "tight").
With dramatic contrast, production rose in the other three groups,
from a pre-change level of sixty units per hour, to seventy units
per hour within thirty days after the change. No grievances were filed,
no employees quit, and group members retained a cooperative attitude
toward management. They referred to the changed job as "our job"
and the changed rate as "our rate." In addition, the same
supervisor who received criticism from group I received support and
cooperation as the supervisor of group 2.
difference between group 2 (which had representatives participate)
and groups 3 and 4 (which had all members participate) was the length
of time that output stayed down after the work changes were made.
The two full-participation groups recovered at a much faster rate.
There is an important postscript. Two-and-one-half months after their
reassignment to other parts of the plant, the thirteen surviving members
of group 1 were regrouped and assigned to a new presser job, one that
presented about the same level of difficulty as the changed job they
had refused to adjust to before the breakup of their group. This time,
however, a full participation approach was used. The group's response
now paralleled the positive responses that groups 3 and 4 had given
to full participation (Coch and French, 1948; Marrow, Bowers, and
What is striking about this study is the dramatic difference that
participation made with regard to workers accepting changes which
were logically in their best interests. After all, these workers were
on an incentive pay system administered by trustworthy management,
and all knew that their jobs would be threatened if the company became
less competitive in a "dog-eat-dog" market.
Another study in the same pajama factory provides additional evidence
about the value of group problem solving for obtaining acceptance
of change. The director of personnel research wanted the management
staff to accept the hiring of older people. The director had evidence
to show that older people had the required skills and aptitudes, but
the staff remained opposed. He suggested that the staff undertake
a modest research project. Since older workers are inefficient, would
it not be useful to determine the cost of continuing the older workers
currently employed? They agreed, and undertook the study.
Results obtained by the management staff were contrary to their expectations,
but similar to the research director's evidence, namely, that older
people are desirable employees. This time, however, staff were willing
to accept and act upon the evidence; now it was their
evidence (Marrow and French, 1945).
A similar case for participation is made by Fleishman (1965). In a
study of veteran workers in a positive work environment, representational
involvement significantly reduced production drops that had previously
accompanied changes in style instituted by management. Without input,
worker dissatisfaction occurred despite the fact that each operator
had continued to perform essentially the same basic operations.
An Aerospace Company
A large aerospace company, the primary supplier of electronics for
ICBM guidance systems, experimented with participative management
as a means of reducing errors and increasing employee satisfaction.
Over a four-year period, some forty groups of employees became involved
in a group problem-solving approach. In each case, the results indicate
the importance of acceptance. For example, a group-set goal to reduce
inspection paperwork errors by 50 percent produced a 75 percent reduction
over a three-month period in one group; whereas, the same goal assigned
individually in another group produced no change. A group of women
requested and obtained music in their work area (via tapes and earphones)
and their output increased significantly; however, when this same
accommodation was extended unilaterally by management to other groups
in the department, no changes in output occurred. Members of one of
three groups doing assembly work requested that their workbenches
be turned around so that they could avoid facing a bare wall. Only
the requesting group was noticeably pleased after management made
the change for all three groups. The other two groups appeared indifferent.
Again, these results show how the way in which a change is made can
have more influence on acceptance than the nature of the change itself.
Over the four-year period, production increases averaged 20-30 percent
and error reductions averaged 30-50 percent, in twenty-seven of the
forty groups encouraged to participate in decision making (Hinrichs,
The Issue of Fairness
When an issue of fairness arises, what is viewed as being right usually
depends upon the background and values of the viewer. Often, what
a group leader would prescribe, even with the best of intentions,
is not what his or her group would suggest. This difference has been
demonstrated many times by running a study in which several groups
are given the same "fairness" problem to solve.
One such problem might concern a foreman's assignment of a new truck
to one of five drivers. It is not obvious who should get the truck.
Each driver could make a claim, depending upon how one values such
factors as seniority, amount of driving required, personal health,
accident and maintenance records, preference about the make of truck,
and the age and condition of each currently assigned truck.
Various groups have produced some thirty different solutions to this
problem. They consistently prefer their own solutions, even after
seeing the additional advantages offered by other solutions (BNA Films,
1965). In 76 percent of sixty-two groups in which leaders let the
group decide, all group members were satisfied with the joint solution
and only three percent of the groups had two or more dissatisfied
members. However, in twenty-four groups in which the leader was perceived
as dominating the decision process, only 4 percent of groups were
free of dissatisfaction and 42 percent had two or more dissatisfied
members (Maier and Hoffman, 1962). These results reinforce the fact
that group member satisfaction can depend more upon an opportunity
to participate — to "own" a solution — than
upon the nature of the solution itself.
Scanlon, Rucker, and Improshare Plan Firms
Scanlon, Rucker, and Improshare plans provide employees with a form
of partnership based on management's willingness to share productivity
gains and influence. The success of this approach requires employee
participation in problem solving. It offers the opportunity to challenge
current ways of doing things, coupled with the responsibility for
coming up with good alternatives. Problem identification and problem
solving are accomplished in committees composed of both labor and
management representatives. The importance of employee participation
has been demonstrated repeatedly by the disappointing results associated
with plans that have neglected this aspect (Fox, 1978; White, 1979).
The following results are attributed to adoption of the Scanlon plan
by an electrical products company in Tennessee (G. Sherman's foreword
to Moore and Ross, 1978):
An average increase of 9 percent in direct labor efficiency;
· An increase of 16 percent in indirect
or support labor productivity;
· Halving of the grievance rate;
· Reduction of the quit rate from an annual
average of 30 percent to 5 ..percent;
· Monthly employee bonuses averaging 13
percent of competitive base ..pay,
in addition to greatly improved employee morale.
Of thirty successful Scanlon plan companies cited by Moore and Ross
(1978), seven permitted the pooling of their financial data. They
had paid an average monthly bonus of almost 10 percent above competitive
base pay to their employees over a period of ten years.
Mitchell Fein (1982) reports an average 24.4 percent improvement in
productivity for fifty-seven companies in their first year of using
his Improshare plan. Workers were given 50 percent of the money saved.
The U.S. General Accounting Office (1981) made a study of twenty-four
firms representing all three plans. It found that those in operation
more than five years had averaged almost 29 percent labor cost savings
for the most recent five-year period. Additional accomplishments commonly
cited were better teamwork and cooperation, faster responses to problems,
better product quality, less resistance to change, more employee involvement,
and lower rates of absenteeism and turnover.
Traditionally, salespeople have been motivated by having their own
territories, being on commission, and being encouraged to outdo each
other. Research shows that a group problem-solving approach can produce
even better results than this traditional approach.
In one study, a new regional sales manager held regular problem-solving
meetings with his group of fourteen local sales managers. In turn,
he encouraged them to hold such meetings with their salespeople. His
region had been below the top one-fourth of all regions in performance
at the time he took over. Within two years, it became the leading
division and went on to improve that lead (Likert, 1961, pp. 188-190).
study, a consultant used attitude survey data to guide a regional
sales manager and his subordinate managers toward a more supportive,
group problem-solving approach to leadership. A significant shift
in supervisory behavior in the desired direction was shown by a comparison
of before and after data supplied by subordinate managers seven months
later. Sales had risen from an average level to a point where they
were higher than the sales of a larger region which had a 25 percent
higher sales growth potential, and this increase in productivity was
accompanied by increases in cooperation and teamwork at all levels
(Likert and Likert, 1976, pp. 78-82).
Based on long-standing tradition and irrespective of nationality,
merchant ship captains and their staffs have maintained social distance
from their crews in that they have unilaterally made decisions about
the running of their ships. They have created and maintained authoritarian
shipboard cultures, nurtured by separate sleeping, dining, and recreational
Due to the growing contrast between these practices and a trend toward
employee participation in industry, Norwegian shipping firms began
in the 1960s to have difficulty in recruiting sailors for their ships.
Consequently, in 1968, the planning of a program of research and development
to improve the quality of working life in the merchant marine was
undertaken by a group of researchers in collaboration with representatives
from the unions, the industry, and the government. They decided to
make and study significant changes in living arrangements, the organization
of work, and the sharing of influence on two project ships (Thorsrud,
These changes were so productive that, over a six-year period, they
were introduced on most of the forty-five ships of the firm that owned
the two project ships, as well as to many ships of other firms. The
Norwegian government initiated significant changes in the training
of seamen, their career planning, and the design of merchant ships.
And now, "Ship-Meets-Ship" conferences are held periodically
so that representatives of different innovative ships can compare
notes and enrich each other's practices.
According to Thorsrud, a key aspect of the program is that "
. . . sailors were accepted as competent partners with a right to
influence their future work environment" (1981, p. 323).
Salaried Retail Sales Clerks
Four department stores from a family-owned chain participated in this
study. All four handled the same type of merchandise and utilized
the same organization structure and operating procedures. Three were
located in large, suburban shopping malls and one was located in a
commercialized business district. No sales clerks were paid on a commission
basis; however, a computerized record of each clerk's sales per hour
was kept. Since surveys had revealed employee dissatisfaction with
pay and various policies, management agreed to experiment with the
following approaches in three of the four stores, using one (store
A) as a control site:
Incentive Only Condition (store B). Sales
goals were assigned to each department in store B, based on the previous
year's level and on acceptability to the sales clerks. Those who performed
best against these goals for the four-week period could choose from
a list of incentives (established on the basis of a poll), such as
a day off with pay, an outfit at cost, being assistant manager for
a day, movie tickets, or being permitted to schedule one's hours of
Participation Only Condition (store C).
Sales clerks were divided into discussion groups to determine the
would be used for approaching customers during the four-week period.
(A survey had indicated considerable resentment of management's required
Combined Condition (store D). Sales clerks
employed both the incentive condition of store B and the participation
condition of store C. The procedure decided on for approaching customers
was the same as that chosen by the sales clerks of store C.
The results were clear-cut. The sales clerks in store D, using both
participation and incentives, sold significantly more per hour than
the clerks in the other three stores. Neither store B nor store C
sales clerks did significantly better than the clerks in store A,
the control site.
When the four-week experimental treatments ended, the stores returned
to their pre-experiment sales levels. Six weeks after this, store
A clerks were given the same incentive/participation treatment that
store D clerks had received, with all three other stores serving as
control sites. This time, store A clerks sold significantly more than
all the other clerks (Neider, 1980).
In one respect, a similar result was obtained from the analysis of
six years of data from the principal foundry of a medium size U.S.
manufacturer. Workers participated in meetings to define and solve
work-related problems, and received productivity bonuses in those
weeks in which production costs fell below standard performance costs.
Participation and financial incentive, employed together, produced
a significantly bigger impact on productivity than either alone.
However, unlike the weaker treatments with the sales clerks, the more
powerful forms of participation and monetary incentive used in the
foundry each made a significant impact
on output, participation being the more important of the two (Rosenberg
and Rosenstein, 1980).
When we compare these results to those obtained in studying Scanlon,
Rucker, and Improshare plan workers and sales personnel, we see a
consistent trend: participation enhances the motivational effects
of other incentives.
In a study by Bragg and Andrews (1973), a highly effective hospital
laundry supervisor, who used a driving, authoritarian style of leadership,
agreed to try a participative, decision-making approach with his group
of thirty-two workers. The primary reason for the trial was to see
if the work could be made more interesting, since the productivity
of the group was already excellent.
Group meetings were called when there were specific proposals to discuss.
Any aspect of managing the laundry could be considered at these meetings,
except for union matters and personal grievances. This policy produced
twenty-eight meetings in which 147 employee suggestions were discussed
during the first fifteen months of the program.
Initial employee uncertainty about this new opportunity for participation
gave way within two months to a positive attitude, which increased
in strength thereafter. For example, in the thirty-eight reporting
periods after the change, the rate of absenteeism for the group was
lower than the overall hospital rate thirty-two out of thirty-eight
times; whereas, before the change it had been lower only twenty-three
out of thirty-eight times. Productivity rose from a pre-change average
of fifty pounds of laundry processed per paid employee hour (higher
than output in two comparison hospitals) to seventy-eight pounds one
year after the change. Productivity later stabilized at seventy-three
At the time this study was reported, the participation program had
survived for three years and was still going strong. The laundry supervisor
indicated that it would be easy for him to revert to his old style,
but he would miss the satisfaction he had gotten from the participative
approach. He added that he had not had to reprimand a single individual
since making the change.
The increase in productivity is particularly impressive when we consider
that output before the change was already excellent, and there was
no monetary incentive involved. This success resulted in the introduction
of participative decision-making to the hospital's staff and to a
medical records section, with beneficial results in both instances.
A Volunteer Organization
The relationship between leadership and organizational effectiveness
was studied in a random sample of 104 local leagues of the League
of Women Voters. Effectiveness was defined as the extent to which
a league accomplished its goals. This was assessed by twenty-nine
judges with broad league experience. They took into account the resources
available to each league. Results showed that
The greater the pressure to participate (from themselves, their
fellow ...group members, and their
discussion leaders), the more effective the ...league.
· The more a member saw a responsive interest
in her ideas, the more ...likely she
would be active.
of the more effective leagues were seen as ...understanding
the views and sentiments of members better than the ...presidents
of the less effective leagues.
As in the preceding studies, an underlying theme is one of shared
influence. League members associate the interest shown in their ideas
with the amount of influence they feel they can exert (Likert, 1961).
The more they feel that their participation is welcome and matters,
the more committed they become to league activities.
This relationship between participation in decision making and attitudes
toward involvement, motivation, and identification with an organization
also held true for a large sample of industrial employees, specifically,
2,100 workers and 380 managers in various Scanlon plan companies (Frost,
Wakeley, and Ruh, 1974).
Research results provide a clear answer to the question: "Why
invite participation?" Group problem solving gives us a better
grasp of the problems we face, more and better solutions to them,
and better commitment to making the solutions work in practice. These
benefits, in turn, are associated with the ultimate payoffs of improved
satisfaction and performance.
We have looked at only a part of the supporting evidence. A 1975 survey
of fifty-seven field studies by the National Science Foundation found
productivity increases due to worker participation in 80 percent of
organizations studied, and a review of 103 worker productivity experiments
by Katzell in 1977 confirmed this finding (Stokes, 1978-79). Additional
evidence relevant to the performance of special types of participation
groups is presented in Chapters Eleven through Thirteen.
However, a word of caution is in order. Some of the studies reviewed
in this chapter involved participative group process in a larger organizational
setting, with results reported in terms of organizational outcomes.
Although effective group process is essential for successful participative
management of an organization, there are other requirements as well.
Foremost among these are an organizational climate that supports the
sharing of influence and safeguards that protect all organization
members from being penalized as a result of gains in effectiveness
made possible by their problem-solving contributions.
Typically, managers associate increased output with good bonuses and
increased job security; whereas, rank-and-file workers often associate
it with reduced workweeks, unexplained job shifts, or termination.
At the same time, many supervisors and staff specialists end up finding
themselves "rewarded" for helping to create successful self-managing
groups by having their responsibilities diminished and their futures
made less certain.
Although the subject of this book — effective group problem
solving — is a key requirement for overall organizational viability,
it is but one of many factors. Lawler (1986) ably discusses the other
requirements in his book, High Involvement Management.