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Was that logical? Demonstrating decision-making constraints in the contemporary workplace environment

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Courses: Organizational Communication, Small Group Communication, Organizational Decision-making, and Communication Technology. Objective: The objectives of this activity are twofold: (1) to engage students in the practice of small-group decision making bounded by temporal, situational, and cognitive constraints; and (2) to demonstrate how these constraints influence the success of small-group decision making by facilitating logical, illogical, or analogical reasoning.
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Communication Teacher
ISSN: 1740-4622 (Print) 1740-4630 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcmt20
Was that logical? Demonstrating decision-making
constraints in the contemporary workplace
environment
Ashley K. Barrett & Melissa Murphy
To cite this article: Ashley K. Barrett & Melissa Murphy (2019) Was that logical? Demonstrating
decision-making constraints in the contemporary workplace environment, Communication Teacher,
33:4, 309-314, DOI: 10.1080/17404622.2019.1575426
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17404622.2019.1575426
Published online: 15 Apr 2019.
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ORIGINAL TEACHING IDEAUNIT
Was that logical? Demonstrating decision-making constraints
in the contemporary workplace environment
Ashley K. Barrett
a
and Melissa Murphy
b
a
Department of Communication, Baylor University, Waco, USA;
b
McCombs Business School, University of
Texas at Austin, Austin, USA
Courses: Organizational Communication, Small Group
Communication, Organizational Decision-making, and
Communication Technology.
Objective: The objectives of this activity are twofold: (1) to engage
students in the practice of small-group decision making bounded by
temporal, situational, and cognitive constraints; and (2) to
demonstrate how these constraints inuence the success of small-
group decision making by facilitating logical, illogical, or
analogical reasoning.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 1 September 2017
Accepted 8 June 2018
Introduction and rationale
Research in small-group decision making has typically described decision making as an
interactive process, falling on a continuum from logical to illogical reasoning, or analogical
in nature (Simon, 1987). Decision making is characterized as more logical when the
process unfolds according to a series of linear, rational stages wherein members of the
group (1) dene the problem, (2) formulate criteria for potential solutions, (3) generate
potential solutions, (4) conduct a costbenet analysis of each potential solution, and
(5) select the optimal solution (see Hirokawa & Gouran, 1989; Nutt, 1993). On the
other hand, illogical (or less logical) decision making is not based on pure rationality
due to several constraints in the decision-making environment. For example, March
and Simons(1958)satiscingmodel describes how, rather than pursuing an optimal
solution, decision makers often settle for a good enoughsolution. Although humans
try to make logical, rational decisions, our rationality is bounded by cognitive (i.e. personal
biases), temporal (i.e. deadlines), and situational (i.e. place and space) constraints. These
cognitive and practical limitations can result in lower gradations of rationality in the
decision-making process.
Similarly, Simon (1987) later oers what he calls an intuitive process of organizational
decision making in which decision makers rely on analogical reasoning to pinpoint a sol-
ution quickly when confronted with temporal constraints. Analogical reasoning entails
recalling similar decisions that have been successfully made in the past and using them
as an analogy for current decision-making needs. To elaborate, managers often use
© 2019 National Communication Association
CONTACT Ashley K. Barrett Abarrett.35@gmail.com Department of Communication, Baylor University, One Bear
Place #97368 Waco, TX 76798-7368
COMMUNICATION TEACHER
2019, VOL. 33, NO. 4, 309314
https://doi.org/10.1080/17404622.2019.1575426
their professional judgment that has accumulated over timederived from their extended
knowledge and past experiencesto make quick decisions in the present (Simon, 1987).
Given advances in organizational technology and the ever-increasing distributed nature
of work, todays organizational environment is riddled with an unprecedented number of
cognitive, temporal, and situational constraints (ONeil, Hambley, & Chatellier, 2014).
Telework, mobile work, virtual work, remote work, and exwork are terms that character-
ize working arrangements wherein employees spend time working outside of the conven-
tional workspace. Rapid advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs)
have made workers accessible beyond their desktops; their work can span time and space,
as technology allows them to remain in constant contact with co-workers (ONeil et al.,
2014). Although there are several advantages to the evolving distributed nature of work
accompanying technological innovationssuch as enhanced workplace exibility and
autonomytraditional workplace processes that heavily rely on face-to-face interaction
and engagement can suer (ONeil et al., 2014). Decision making is one such process.
As ICTs continue to develop, students will experience the benets and ramications of
how these tools alter decision makingin both their classrooms and future career work-
places. Many students will discover that distributed work is not only an opportunity but a
necessity that can bombard decision-making processes with additional constraints that
impair rationality. As a result, it is important to integrate lessons and activities into
college courses that exemplify how technology and the evolving nature of work impact
important organizational decision-making processes.
The activity
Two class periods before the activity, the instructor should lecture over the following
decision-making models and assign students the corresponding readings: Nutts 5 Stage
Normative Model (Nutt, 1993), March and Simons Satiscing (March & Simon, 1958),
Simons Intuitive Process (Simon, 1987), Functional Theory (Gouran & Hirokawa,
1996), and Groupthink (Janis, 1982). Each of these readings is a formative work in the
decision-making literature, focusing on the dierent communicative and cognitive pro-
cesses group members utilize to reach a solution. Each article or book chapter is 25
pages long.
Lecturing over these ve models and concepts should take two full class periods in a 75-
minute class or three class periods in a 50-minute class. During these lectures, instructors
should emphasize the dierences between the analogical reasoning driving less rational
decision-making models (Satiscing, Intuitive Process, and Groupthink) and the logical
reasoning facilitating rational decision-making models (Nutts Model and Functional
Theory). It is also important to elucidate how decision makers are confronted with tem-
poral, cognitive, and/or situational constraints that often impede their ability to be com-
pletely rational in the decision-making process, even if they have a calculated goal to be
rational.
Learning these ve models will provide students with a landscape of the literature on
decision making and oer insight into the problems associated with making high-
quality and ecient decisions in organizations. Instructors should leave 30 minutes at
the end of the second (or third) day to engage students in a classroom discussion. Students
must debate and understand the advantages and disadvantages of both logical and
310 A. K. BARRETT AND M. MURPHY
analogical/intuitive reasoning and the communicative processes associated with each
before they can apply this material in the activity, for example spotlight the time and
deep analysis that logical reasoning demands, and the damaging role emotion and
faulty heuristics can play in analogical reasoning.
After two (or three days) of instruction, the following class period should commence
the group portion of the activity. To begin the group portion of the activity, students
should be divided into six groups. For the purpose of this paper, we will assume a class-
room of 25 students. Instructors should assign:
(1) Three students to a face-to-face group.
(2) Three students to an instant messaging group (text message, G-chat, etc.).
(3) Three students to an email group.
(4) Three students to a group that must sit silently for the rst four minutes of the eight-
minute exercise, but afterwards can talk freely face-to-face.
(5) Three students to a group in which only two of the students can be present in the
room at one time.
(6) Ten students to another face-to-face group.
The parameters of each group have been designed to imitate (1) the temporal con-
straints decision makers encounter in the contemporary world due to ICT advancements
(i.e. instant message, email, and sit silent groups), (2) cognitive constraints (i.e. 10-person
group and silent group), (3) situational constraints decision makers encounter due to new
working arrangements such as ex time (i.e. two in and one out group), and/or (d) a posi-
tive decision-making experience with fewer constraints (i.e. three person face-to-face
group). Prior to the activity, instructors should not inform students how the parameters
of each group are specically designed to reect decision-making constraints. Students
will make these connections themselves during the debrieng period. If the classroom is
larger than 25 students, increase the number of groups rather than increasing the
number of students in each group. If instructors have less time for the activity and
cannot engage six groups in the post-activity discussion, the six groups can be reduced
to four. Rather than assigning students to an email, text message, and sit silent group,
instructors can include only one of these groups in the activity, given they are all designed
to mirror temporal decision-making constraints.
After assigning each student to a group, give each group the handout shown in Figure 1.
Spend 510 minutes explaining the handout to the class and answering any questions stu-
dents present. Remind students they can only speak through the channel they have been
assigned and must abide by any other rules given to their group (e.g. only having two
people in the room at one time). Encourage students to take individual notes regarding
the groups decision-making process. For example, did the group follow a linear process
that involved distinct decision-making stages or was the process more erratic? Did the
group generate criteria for each potential solution? What communicative challenges did
the group encounter? After the activity is over, students must reect on their decision-
making procedures, and taking notes will aid their memory.
Students will ultimately discover there is no correct answer to this exercise. However,
instructors should introduce and present the assignment to students as if a xed answer
COMMUNICATION TEACHER 311
does exist. As indicated in Figure 1, students should be given eight minutes to decide
which seven people will be granted continued access to the shelter. Instructors should
place a timer on the overhead projector so students know exactly how much time they
have remaining.
Debrieng
After students have reduced the list of 12 people to 7, they should be given ve minutes to
reect personally and individually on their groups decision-making experience. Place the
following seven questions on a PowerPoint slide. Ask students to answer the questions and
reect on their experiences.
(1) Did you make decisions in a rational and logical way?
(2) How did you structure your decision making? (Process, stages?)
(3) What specic decision-making constraints challenged your group (temporal, situa-
tional, cognitive, or a combination)? Did technology,time,orsize of the group
factor into your ability to make decisions?
(4) What actions, if any, did your group take to counteract these constraints?
(5) Did your group optimize or satisce? How do you know?
Figure 1. Activity instruction sheet.
312 A. K. BARRETT AND M. MURPHY
(6) Did groupthink come into play? If so, how?
(7) What are the implications of this activity for organizational decision making?
After the ve minutes is over, use the same seven questions to facilitate a classroom dis-
cussion wherein students reect upon how their decision-making experience as a group
compares to others. At the very least, instructors should ask each group about the per-
ceived logic and rationality guiding the groups decision-making methods and inquire
into the specic constraints each group encountered. Students often characterize their
decision-making procedures as rational and/or logical. However, analogical reasoning is
necessary due to the simulated constraints placed upon each group. All groups will be
forced to satisce rather than optimize in an eight-minute exercise, but some groups pro-
cesses will be more rational than others. Students often quickly acknowledge the temporal
constraints operating against their group, but the situational and cognitive constraints are
harder to identify. Encourage each groupespecially the 10+ person groupto consider
the specictype of groupthink that aicted their group. Did students actively censor
themselves? Did dominant communicators discourage the exploration of potential
solutions?
In addition, encourage students to contemplate whether they were given a sucient
amount of information to make decisions properly. The handout only provides the
ages, gender, and occupation/education of each potential bomb-shelter occupant.
Explain to students that a lack of information functions as a cognitive constraint. When
facing this constraint, biases or predispositions are key ingredients facilitating the
decision-making process. Yet, decision makers are often unaware of their powerful
inuence. For example, when reecting on their decisions, students often comment
how gender and age (i.e. women and children rst) and professional stereotypes (i.e.
all medical students are smart, and all parolees are dangerous) formulated biases that
drove their decision-making process. It takes guided critical reection for students to
realize that these biases can play a crucial role in their decision makingespecially if infor-
mation is scant or time is of the essence.
Appraisal
After the activity, students are better equipped to analyze how constraints in the contem-
porary workplace environment aect the rigor of organizational decision-making pro-
cesses yet are oftentimes unavoidable. They demonstrate a clearer understanding of the
decision-making steps that correspond with rational, irrational, and analogical reasoning.
For example, students often pinpoint how certain stages necessary for rational models
such as a willingness to evaluate the cons of each potential solution criticallyare
bypassed, and how this omission reduces decision makersrationality, even when they
are attempting to be rational.
Most importantly, students walk away understanding that no decision-making process
is perfect because constraints are ubiquitous and often reinforce one another. For example,
temporal constraints can result in increased cognitive constraints (i.e. reliance on biases)
and situational constraints (i.e. making decisions in dierent times and spaces) can exacer-
bate temporal constraints. Studentsmajor take-away should be that they, as decision
makers, must do their best, given the unique constraints operating against their group
COMMUNICATION TEACHER 313
that limit communicative processes. This necessitates that they identify, analyze, and
reect upon the constraints challenging their groups. Remind students that the stage
decision-making models such as Functional Theory and Nutts Model are prescriptive
in nature; they depict how decisions should be made in a perfect working world.
However, as technology continues to mature and multiply, our working world becomes
less traditional, more exible, and more fragmented, which complicates decision
making. Students should understand that in their future careers, they will be responsible
for developing practices that protect the quality of decision-making processes.
ORCID
Ashley K Barrett http://orcid.org/0000-0003-3518-501X
References and suggested readings
Gouran, D. S., & Hirokawa, R. Y. (1996). Functional theory and communication in decision-making
and problem-solving groups: An expanded view. In R. Y. Hirokawa, & M. S. Poole (Eds.),
Communication and group decision making (2nd ed., pp. 5580). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Hirokawa, R. Y., & Gouran, D. S. (1989). Facilitation of group communication: A critique of prior
research and an agenda for future research. Management Communication Quarterly,3,7192.
doi:10.1177/0893318989003001005
Janis, I. L. (1982). The groupthink syndrome. In I. L. Janis (Ed.), Groupthink: Psychological studies
of policy decisions and ascos (pp. 174197). Boston, MA: Houghton Miin.
March, J. G., & Simon, H. A. (1958). Cognitive limits on rationality. In J. G. March, & H. A. Simon
(Eds.), Organizations (pp. 157182). New York, NY: Wiley.
Nutt, P. C. (1993). The formulation processes and tactics used in organizational decision making.
Organization Science,4, 226251. doi:10.1287/orsc.4.2.226
ONeil, T. A., Hambley, L. A., & Chatellier, G. S. (2014). Cyberslacking, engagement, and person-
ality in distributed work environments. Computers in Human Behavior,40, 152160. doi:10.
1016/j.chb.2014.08.005
Simon, H. A. (1987). Making management decisions: The role of intuition and emotion. Academy of
Management Executive,1,5764. doi:10.5465/AME.1987.4275905
314 A. K. BARRETT AND M. MURPHY
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The groupthink syndrome
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