Dissertation thesis abstract.


Toward a Truly Dynamic Theory of Problem-Solving Group Effectiveness: Cognitive and Emotional Processes during the Root Cause Analysis Performed by a Business Process Re-Engineering Team.


To seek to grasp the world by means of an efficient conceptual system is part of the greatness of man's spirit. But one of his weaknesses is that he believes in it too much. When a scientist puts forward a theory, he does not immediately believe in its intrinsic value. He knows it is only a code to order the world and that order itself is valuable. The prime virtue of a theory is clarity, and a theory is cast aside if it results in more confusion than clarity, does more harm than good. And if we want to bring some order into human events on our planet, we must not let what is most precious to us be overshadowed or injured by our dispositions. The spirit must strive toward a synthesis that satisfies not just one of our needs--such as order or technical development--but all our needs.

Antoine De Saint-Exupery Wartime Writings, 1939 - 1944, p. 45

The most interesting and astounding contradiction in life is to me the constant insistence by nearly all people upon "logic," "logical reasoning," "sound reasoning" on the one hand, and on the other their inability to display it, and their unwillingness to accept it when displayed by others.

Chester I. Barnard Functions of the Executive, p. 301


The study develops a methodology for relating cognitive and emotional processes in a problem-solving group to its effectiveness. The adopted notion of effectiveness consists of 5 components. One describing quality of the causal diagrams generated by a group, and four describing individual characteristics of participants:

In accord with the recent ideas proposed by McGrath (1997) and Weingart (1997), the study views groups as complex, adaptive, dynamic systems. Yet it also is guided by a theoretical orientation that stems from an attempt to grasp the role of rationality in human affairs and was originated by Weber (1968/1924). The work was motivated by our ultimate interest in developing a theory of a firm as driven by a network of problem-solving processes.

Data for the study were collected during the 1.5-month long consulting engagement in a high-tech company, which was designing a process for resolving software problems reported by customers. The data include: field notes, company communications, interviews, tests of problem-solving and interaction preferences of all workshop participants, 16 hours of videotapes recorded during the workshop, and a post-workshop questionnaire.

Videotapes and supporting contextual materials were used for designing Cognition-Emotion-Motivation-Action (CEMA) coding scheme and diagrams capable of tracing both cognitive and emotional states of each participant. Reliability of coding was estimated and lessons were drawn for improving it. A list of productions governing transitions between the states was generated and the size of a complete production system for the collaborative Root Cause Analysis task was estimated. CEMA diagrams extend Problem Behavior Graph (PBG) technique proposed by Newell and Simon (1972) into the area of collaborative face-to-face problem solving.

Several substantive findings relating group dynamics and effectiveness have been made and are reported. Practical recommendations for effective use of the Root Cause Analysis by groups are formulated.


McGrath, Joseph E. 1997. "Small group research, that once and future field: An interpretation of the past with an eye to the future" Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice 1(1):7-27

Newell, Allen and Herbert A. Simon. 1972. Human Problem Solving Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Weber, M. 1968/1924. Economy and Society Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Weingart, Laurie. 1997. "How did they do that? The ways and means to study group process." In Research in Organizational Behavior ed. by L.L. Cummings and B.M. Staw, 19:189-239. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.




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