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Functional Perspective on Group Decision Making
Randy Hirokawa & Dennis Gouran

GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATION: GROUP COMMUNICATION


  1. Introduction.
    1. Randy Hirokawa and Dennis Gouran believe that group interaction has a positive effect on decision making.
    2. Hirokawa seeks quality solutions; Gouran desires appropriate decisions.
    3. The functional perspective specifies what communication must accomplish for jointly made decisions to be wise.
  2. Four functions for effective decision making.
    1. Hirokawa and Gouran draw on the analogy between biological systems and small groups.
      1. Group decision making must fulfill four task requirements to reach a high-quality decision.
      2. These tasks are requisite functions of effective decision making—hence the functional perspective label.
    2. Function #1: Analysis of the problem.
      1. Group members must take a realistic look at current conditions.
      2. Misunderstandings of situations are compounded when group members make their final decision.
      3. The clearest example of faulty analysis is a failure to recognize a potential threat.
      4. Group members must determine the nature, extent, and probable cause(s) of the problem.
    3. Function #2: Goal setting.
      1. A group needs to establish criteria for judging proposed solutions. If the group fails to meet these, the decision will likely be driven by power or passion rather than reason.
      2. With no definitive goals to focus their discussion, it’s difficult for group members to know whether they’re making an appropriate decision.
    4. Function #3: Identification of alternatives.
      1. Hirokawa and Gouran stress the importance of marshalling a number of different viable options from which to choose.
      2. Groups need to identify courses of action.
    5. Function #4: Evaluation of positive and negative characteristics.
      1. Group members must test the relative merits of each alternative they identified against the criteria that emerged in the goal setting function.
      2. Some group tasks have a positive bias—spotting the favorable characteristics of alternative choices is more important than identifying negative qualities.
      3. Other group tasks have a negative bias—the downside of options is more important than identifying their positive qualities.
  3. Prioritizing the four functions.
    1. Originally, they thought that no single function was inherently more central than the others.
    2. Hirokawa discovered the groups that successfully resolve especially difficult problems usually take a common decision-making path.
    3. Research suggests that the evaluation of negative consequences of alternative solutions was by far the most crucial to ensure a quality decision.
    4. Hirokawa now splits evaluation of positive and negative consequences and speaks of five requisite functions rather than four.
    5. As long as a group covers all of the functions, the route taken is not the key issue.
    6. Nonetheless, groups that successfully resolve particularly tough problems often take a common decision-making path: problem analysis, goal setting, identifying alternatives, and evaluating the positive and negative characteristics.
  4. The role of communication in fulfilling the functions.
    1. Traditional wisdom suggests that talk is the channel or conduit through which information travels between participants.
      1. Verbal interaction makes it possible for members to distribute and pool information, catch and remedy errors, and influence each other.
      2. Ivan Steiner claimed that actual group productivity equals potential productivity minus losses due to processes.
      3. Communication is best when it does not obstruct or distort the free flow of ideas.
    2. In contrast, Hirokawa believes that group discussion creates the social reality for decision making.
    3. Hirokawa and Gouran outline three types of communication in decision-making groups.
      1. Promotive—interaction that calls attention to one of the four decision-making functions.
      2. Disruptive—interaction that detracts from the group’s ability to achieve the four task functions.
      3. Counteractive—interaction that refocuses the group.
    4. Since most communication disrupts, effective group decision making depends upon counteractive influence.
  5. Thoughtful advice for those who know they are right.
    1. Be skeptical of personal opinions.
      1. Groups often abandon the rational path due to the persuasive efforts of other self-assured group members.
      2. Unsupported intuition is untrustworthy.
    2. Follow John Dewey’s six-step process of reflective thinking, which parallels a doctor’s treatment regimen.
      1. Recognize symptoms of illness.
      2. Diagnose the cause of the ailment.
      3. Establish criteria for wellness.
      4. Consider possible remedies.
      5. Test to determine which solutions will work.
      6. Implement or prescribe the best solution.
    3. Hirokawa and Gouran’s four requisite functions replicate steps two through five of Dewey’s reflective thinking.
    4. To counteract faulty logic, insist on a careful process.
  6. Ethical reflection: Habermas’ discourse ethics.
    1. Jürgen Habermas suggests a rational group process through which people can determine right from wrong.
    2. Being ethical means being accountable.
    3. People in a given culture or community can agree on the good they want to accomplish and over time build up wisdom on how to achieve it.
    4. The person who performed an act must be prepared to discuss what he or she did and why he or she did it in an open forum.
    5. He imagined an ideal speech situation where participants were free to listen to reason and speak their minds without fear of constraint or control.
    6. Three requirements must be met to have an ideal speech situation:
      1. Requirement of access for all affected parties
      2. Requirement of argument to figure out the common good
      3. Requirement of justification or universal application
  7. Critique: Valid Only If New Functions Are Added Or Scope Is Narrowed
    1. Although the functional perspective is one of the three leading theories in small group communication, its exclusive focus on rationality may cause the mixed experimental results it’s had.
    2. Stohl and Homes suggest that unless the theorists adopt a bona fide group approach, the theory is irrelevant for most real life group decisions.
    3. In these authentic situations, many members have roles in overlapping groups that have a stake in the decision they make and are typically responsible to a leader or manager outside the group.
    4. Stohl and Holmes emphasize that most real-life groups have a prior decision-making history and are embedded within a larger organization.
      1. They advocate adding a historical function requiring the group to talk about how past decisions were made.
      2. They also advocate an institutional function that is satisfied when members discuss relevant parties who are absent from the decision-making process.
    5. Recently, Gouran has raised doubts about the usefulness of the functional perspective for all small groups.
      1. It’s beneficial for members to fulfill the four requisite functions only when they are addressing questions of policy.
      2. Groups addressing questions of fact, conjecture, or value may not find the requisite functions relevant.
      3. The scope of the functional perspective is more limited than first believed.


CHANGE TO View by Type

Resources
by Theory














Instructors can get additional
resources. Read more

Archived chapters (PDF)
from previous editions
are available in
Resources by Type.
See list

New to Theory
Resources?

Find out more in this short
video overview (3:01).


Functional Perspective on Group Decision Making
Randy Hirokawa & Dennis Gouran

GROUP AND PUBLIC COMMUNICATION: GROUP COMMUNICATION


  1. Introduction.
    1. Randy Hirokawa and Dennis Gouran believe that group interaction has a positive effect on decision making.
    2. Hirokawa seeks quality solutions; Gouran desires appropriate decisions.
    3. The functional perspective specifies what communication must accomplish for jointly made decisions to be wise.
  2. Four functions for effective decision making.
    1. Hirokawa and Gouran draw on the analogy between biological systems and small groups.
      1. Group decision making must fulfill four task requirements to reach a high-quality decision.
      2. These tasks are requisite functions of effective decision making—hence the functional perspective label.
    2. Function #1: Analysis of the problem.
      1. Group members must take a realistic look at current conditions.
      2. Misunderstandings of situations are compounded when group members make their final decision.
      3. The clearest example of faulty analysis is a failure to recognize a potential threat.
      4. Group members must determine the nature, extent, and probable cause(s) of the problem.
    3. Function #2: Goal setting.
      1. A group needs to establish criteria for judging proposed solutions. If the group fails to meet these, the decision will likely be driven by power or passion rather than reason.
      2. With no definitive goals to focus their discussion, it’s difficult for group members to know whether they’re making an appropriate decision.
    4. Function #3: Identification of alternatives.
      1. Hirokawa and Gouran stress the importance of marshalling a number of different viable options from which to choose.
      2. Groups need to identify courses of action.
    5. Function #4: Evaluation of positive and negative characteristics.
      1. Group members must test the relative merits of each alternative they identified against the criteria that emerged in the goal setting function.
      2. Some group tasks have a positive bias—spotting the favorable characteristics of alternative choices is more important than identifying negative qualities.
      3. Other group tasks have a negative bias—the downside of options is more important than identifying their positive qualities.
  3. Prioritizing the four functions.
    1. Originally, they thought that no single function was inherently more central than the others.
    2. Hirokawa discovered the groups that successfully resolve especially difficult problems usually take a common decision-making path.
    3. Research suggests that the evaluation of negative consequences of alternative solutions was by far the most crucial to ensure a quality decision.
    4. Hirokawa now splits evaluation of positive and negative consequences and speaks of five requisite functions rather than four.
    5. As long as a group covers all of the functions, the route taken is not the key issue.
    6. Nonetheless, groups that successfully resolve particularly tough problems often take a common decision-making path: problem analysis, goal setting, identifying alternatives, and evaluating the positive and negative characteristics.
  4. The role of communication in fulfilling the functions.
    1. Traditional wisdom suggests that talk is the channel or conduit through which information travels between participants.
      1. Verbal interaction makes it possible for members to distribute and pool information, catch and remedy errors, and influence each other.
      2. Ivan Steiner claimed that actual group productivity equals potential productivity minus losses due to processes.
      3. Communication is best when it does not obstruct or distort the free flow of ideas.
    2. In contrast, Hirokawa believes that group discussion creates the social reality for decision making.
    3. Hirokawa and Gouran outline three types of communication in decision-making groups.
      1. Promotive—interaction that calls attention to one of the four decision-making functions.
      2. Disruptive—interaction that detracts from the group’s ability to achieve the four task functions.
      3. Counteractive—interaction that refocuses the group.
    4. Since most communication disrupts, effective group decision making depends upon counteractive influence.
  5. Thoughtful advice for those who know they are right.
    1. Be skeptical of personal opinions.
      1. Groups often abandon the rational path due to the persuasive efforts of other self-assured group members.
      2. Unsupported intuition is untrustworthy.
    2. Follow John Dewey’s six-step process of reflective thinking, which parallels a doctor’s treatment regimen.
      1. Recognize symptoms of illness.
      2. Diagnose the cause of the ailment.
      3. Establish criteria for wellness.
      4. Consider possible remedies.
      5. Test to determine which solutions will work.
      6. Implement or prescribe the best solution.
    3. Hirokawa and Gouran’s four requisite functions replicate steps two through five of Dewey’s reflective thinking.
    4. To counteract faulty logic, insist on a careful process.
  6. Ethical reflection: Habermas’ discourse ethics.
    1. Jürgen Habermas suggests a rational group process through which people can determine right from wrong.
    2. Being ethical means being accountable.
    3. People in a given culture or community can agree on the good they want to accomplish and over time build up wisdom on how to achieve it.
    4. The person who performed an act must be prepared to discuss what he or she did and why he or she did it in an open forum.
    5. He imagined an ideal speech situation where participants were free to listen to reason and speak their minds without fear of constraint or control.
    6. Three requirements must be met to have an ideal speech situation:
      1. Requirement of access for all affected parties
      2. Requirement of argument to figure out the common good
      3. Requirement of justification or universal application
  7. Critique: Valid Only If New Functions Are Added Or Scope Is Narrowed
    1. Although the functional perspective is one of the three leading theories in small group communication, its exclusive focus on rationality may cause the mixed experimental results it’s had.
    2. Stohl and Homes suggest that unless the theorists adopt a bona fide group approach, the theory is irrelevant for most real life group decisions.
    3. In these authentic situations, many members have roles in overlapping groups that have a stake in the decision they make and are typically responsible to a leader or manager outside the group.
    4. Stohl and Holmes emphasize that most real-life groups have a prior decision-making history and are embedded within a larger organization.
      1. They advocate adding a historical function requiring the group to talk about how past decisions were made.
      2. They also advocate an institutional function that is satisfied when members discuss relevant parties who are absent from the decision-making process.
    5. Recently, Gouran has raised doubts about the usefulness of the functional perspective for all small groups.
      1. It’s beneficial for members to fulfill the four requisite functions only when they are addressing questions of policy.
      2. Groups addressing questions of fact, conjecture, or value may not find the requisite functions relevant.
      3. The scope of the functional perspective is more limited than first believed.


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