The Problem Solving Process

Pascarella (1997, p. 38) indicates the decision making, or problem solving, process can be broken down into six phases, some of which overlap in some situations: recognizing the need for a decision; identifying the objectives; identifying alternatives; evaluating alternatives; selecting the best alternative; and, implementing the decision. I would break down the decision-making process into three major phases: the alert, analysis, and action phases. In the alert phase awareness develops that a decision must be made.

Either something goes wrong or a need becomes obvious, or a request is made which must be dealt with. The next phase is an analysis of the problems, which bear upon the situation and the potential solutions, which might go to form the foundation of a decision. Choosing the best solution leads to the action phase, in which the decision is implemented. The Role of the Principal in Group Decision Making The principal (manager or leader) does not operate in a vacuum. Even if the principal decides an issue with no input form teachers, those teachers nevertheless take part in the implementation of that decision.

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Therefore, the principal can not overlook the attitudes of the teachers in any decision-making process, whether those attitudes come into play in the alert, analysis, or action phase. No matter how carefully the principal analyzes problems and reaches decisions, his or her teachers will ultimately determine whether or not the plan will work. The degree to which teachers will have to be involved in these decisions will be an individual determination. In some cases a principal might decide that teachers can profitably help analyze the problem, participate in developing alternatives, and help decide what should be done.

This would be a very high degree of participation and would more likely gain the full support of teachers. Many decisions result naturally from a thorough problem analysis in which clear goals have been established, alternatives developed and evaluated, and potential consequences measured. However, there is a way of thinking about decision making that is essential for both the leader (the principal) and the participants (the teachers). From the principal’s standpoint, it must be clear that the decision is one that is appropriate for a group to decide and not one that should be made by the principal alone.

Trouble can develop when principals are not willing to define the parameters associated with the decision making process. This can lead to principals making decisions outside the realm of their responsibility or authority. Effective principals, therefore, carefully consider their areas of influence and let their subordinates know which decisions they themselves will make and which other groups or individuals will be responsible for. At the beginning of any problem solving activity, the group should reach an understanding about how the decision will be made.

If the group’s ideas are not binding (that is, if the group is acting in an advisory capacity), its status and the reason for the status should be made clear. If the decision for eventual action is, in fact, the group’s responsibility, the particular decision making method should be understood and discussed. Ideally, principals should legitimize all members of the group and their contributions by selecting a decision making process in which everyone participates. Advantages of Group Decision Making

A group solving problems together will provide participants with a baseline of common understanding and information that cannot be replicated in a memo or through less personal means. Such involvement results in a greater sympathy toward the complexities of the problem, and sets the groundwork for the group’s acceptance of the eventual solution. Effective communication, understanding of and the eventual acceptance of a solution are closely related to one another, and group decision making enhances this interrelationship.

(Hollenbeck, et al, 1994, p. 310) Another advantage of group decision making is that individuals come into a problem-solving situation with personal biases, needs and perspectives. A group setting offers an environment which legitimizes a variety of viewpoints. Usually, provided that good information is provided in an intelligent manner and a climate exists in which individuals are not compelled to defend their positions, a group will move toward the best ideas. (Parnell & Bell, 1994, p. 520)

A good experience in a group can generate enthusiasm and can be contagious, thus enhancing the morale of all group members. The commitment toward eventual action can come out of this teamwork, as well as from the building of alternatives and even through the discussions that are associated with group decision making. Individuals have the opportunity to enhance their self-esteem through their contribution and relationship to the group. Similarly, the give-and-take discussion in a group can bring about new ideas that may not have been thought of by an individual acting alone.

Different from the formal presentation of new ideas in a group setting, open discussion encourages members to be irreverent, to question precedent and to challenge the way that the company has historically performed tasks. Perhaps the greatest advantage of group decision making is the inherent recognition in the process that problem solving is a multidimensional process that can involve large number of people. The more involvement that individuals have during this potentially impersonal process, the greater the likelihood that the decision will be successfully accepted and implemented (Dennis & Valacich, 1994, p. 725).

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