Cheryl L. Harris
Work teams as a method for doing business in organizations is becoming prevalent throughout the 1990’s. One of the applications of teams is the area of knowledge work, where the actual product is knowledge, in terms of designs, decisions, or information. Using work teams in knowledge work is difficult because the goals are often fuzzy and output is difficult to measure. Yet, using a team in this setting is tempting because it brings individuals with different perspectives together creating synergy with the goal of creating the ultimate product. Since many organizations are implementing knowledge work teams, there is a strong need for information about making these teams effective. A previous chapter dealt specifically with factors involved in team effectiveness. One of the key factors is effective team decision making. Mohrman, Cohen, and Mohrman, Jr. (1995) found that timely decision making related to both team and business unit effectiveness, and that knowledge work teams, “that use systematic decision-making processes are much more likely to be effective than teams that do not” (p. 251). Kellett (1993) found that effective teams had a more dramatic style of decision making, with decisions made in a forum which was interpersonally non-threatening, with encouragement of diverse thinking, facilitating more participation by members, an open attitude for change and a shared concern for excellence in completing the task, as well as continued evaluation of performance. Effective decision making is especially important on teams of knowledge workers considering that decisions are often the product of these teams. Unfortunately, many problems can occur that reduce the quality of decisions and/or increase decision-making time. The purpose of this paper is to review the literature on team decision making and relate it to knowledge work. Subjects covered includes the benefits of effective decision making, potential problems of team decision making, possible solutions to those problems and implications for practitioners, and roles in team decision making. Benefits of Effective Team Decision Making The major benefits of effective team decision making are reduction of time needed to make decisions and improved decision quality. Often, in traditional organizations, a decision could be made and remade as the issue went through different functional departments with different goals, increasing time taken to make the decision while decreasing decision quality. Since teams cut
Team Decision Making
across traditional hierarchies to “flatten out” organizations, less time is spent taking the decision to appropriate parts of that hierarchy (Mohrman et al., 1995). The functional or hierarchical barriers between members are brought down, bringing competing perspectives together to make decisions. Since all members are knowledgeable about operational issues and customer requirements, a decision taking all factors into account is made. When the team uses the customer goal as the criterion for success, individual goals can be ignored for the good of the customer to get the best product. Overall cycle time is reduced, which equates to improvements in costs. The synergy of many different perspectives combines to improve quality of decision making, since those knowledgeable about the product work together with the customer. Some benefits of effective team decision making relate to the team process itself. The authority to make decisions about how the team does its work helps build capability to make a difference in the attainment of goals, which is crucial to team empowerment (Mohrman et al., 1996). Clarifying decision responsibility is an internal team process related to the ability to arrive at a shared understanding, which is another factor in team effectiveness. Issues and Solutions in Team Decision Making In this next section, potential problems...