A team is a small group of people with
complementary skills who are committed
to a common purpose, performance goals,
and approach for which they hold themselves
Although student teams may not satisfy all the requirements of the
definition, the degree to which they do often determines their effectiveness.
“Students do not come to school with all the social skills
they need to collaborate effectively with others. Therefore, teachers
need to teach the appropriate communication, leadership, trust,
decision making, and conflict management skills to students and
provide the motivation to use these skills in order for groups to
function effectively.”2 Faculty
members must take responsibility to help students develop their
skills to participate on and lead teams.
Individual decision making is the act of making up one’s mind.
Team decision making is the process through which a team chooses
an alternative. Team performance depends largely on the choices
made by the team. These choices, in turn, depend on the processes
through which teams decide. Therefore, high performance teams require
processes through which teams make high quality decisions. Faculty
members may help teams improve their performance and reduce the
likelihood of dysfunctional teams by working with students to help
them improve their capabilities to make team decisions. This document
provides resources for faculty members working with student teams
on decision making.
Every day student teams make many decisions, ranging from small
to large scale, both in terms of resources involved in making the
decision and the impact that the decisions can have.
• A small-scale decision might be why, where, and when to
hold the next meeting. This decision involves resources, in the
form of time and energy, to evaluate and select the purposes, time,
and location of the meeting. Inability to effectively make small-scale
decisions rapidly and effectively may lead to a dysfunctional team.
• A large-scale decision might be determining the approach
to adopt for the design project. This decision involves the time
and energy of the individuals who research the different alternatives
as well as their pros and cons. Some of the team members may have
substantial commitment to one or more of the possible approaches.
This decision has the potential to make or break a team.
Why learn about effective team decision making?
Each student team has to make many decisions during its existence.
These decisions may be made in ad hoc ways or using processes that
increase the likelihood of an effective choice. The processes through
which decisions are reached may dramatically affect the quality
of the decisions and team performance. For example, the choice a
design approach might be made by flipping a coin or by thoughtful
analysis of the pros and cons of each alternative. To make informed
choices in selecting team decision making processes, teams need
to learn how others have thought about decision making processes.
In discussing information on decision making the aim is to provide
individuals and teams with theoretical frameworks, strategies, and
tools that they can use to make informed choices about how they
will make decisions. Decision making will be examined from three
for Decision Making The environment that
a team creates for conversations plays a critical role in quality
of its decisions. Two other minidocuments in the Foundation Coalition
series on Student Teams in Engineering also present aspects of
the decision making environment. The first minidocument is on
Intrateam/Interteam Communication, while the
second minidocument is on Understanding
Conflict and Conflict Management. The current
minidocument invites students to consider attributes of environments
for decision making that are likely to improve the quality of
decisions reached. Then, it explores a specific type of environment
called the Thinking Environment. Thinking Environments are described
in more depth by Nancy Kline in her book, Time to Think.3
for Decision Making Teams can arrive
at decisions in many different ways. The current minidocument
presents seven methods by which teams might make decisions and
examines advantages and disadvantages of each. Informed dialogue
about the different methods may help student teams make more informed
decisions about how they reach decisions.
for Decision Making As
engineering companies established and relied upon multifunctional
teams to plan and implement designs, they developed a number of
tools to help teams share, organize, and visualize the information
that might influence their decisions. The minidocument will present
several of these tools that student teams could learn and use
to make their decisions.
Skill with environments, methods,
and tools for decision making will help each engineering graduate,
because each graduate is likely to work on many teams in his/her
Much of the work with teams across the Foundation Coalition can
be traced to the workshop assembled by Lynn Bellamy and Barry McNeill
of Arizona State University. Please see some of their material on
teams at http://www.eas.asu.edu/~asufc/teaminginfo/teams.html.