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Problem-solving orientations and decision-making styles among rehabilitation professionals.

Problem-Solving Orientations and Decision-Making Styles Among Rehabilitation Professionals

Since the turn of the century, rehabilitation, health care, and education have expanded well beyond the imagination of earlier generations. Because of such proliferation in the public sector, there is an even greater need for improved management (Drucker, 1974). Whereas a generation or two ago, the performance of public sector organizations was subject only to cursory review, today, increased demands for rehabilitation services are coupled with competition for diminished resources. Thus, rehabilitation organizations must operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. Consequently, providers of rehabilitation services have no alternative but to manage their organizations for improved performance (Drucker, 1964).

A prerequisite to improving performance may be to study organizations in order to understand human behavior (Cummings & Schwab, 1973; Fayol, 1960). Upon further consideration, however, this approach appears too broad and cumbersome, especially for those unfamiliar with studies of organizational behavior. A more manageable option for understanding human behavior in organizations may be found in problem-solving styles and decision-making in groups (Barker, 1979; Crutchfield, 1955; Leavitt 1951; Lewin, 1951; Luft, 1984).

One important historical landmark in the study of small groups was the research of Mayo and his associates at Harvard Business School in the 1920s and 1930s (Davis, 1977; Hersey & Blanchard, 1982; Scott & Mitchell, 1976). Until the 1920s, management research reflected scholarly interest with the rational, scientific aspects of work (Mooney & Reiley, 1947; Taylor, 1895, 1911). Mayo's contribution marked a shift in organization theory and began the human relations movement. Mayo (1933) along with Roethlisberger and Dickson (1939) believed the rational economic assumptions about human motivation were not sufficient to explain work behavior within organizations. Their historic study at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric in 1927 showed that human motivation was complex; that the best designed organizations may be confounded by small group activities (Koontz & O'Donnell, 1972; Newman, Summer, & Warren, 1967).

Considerable information is available relating to the positive consequences of group participation. Management researchers have confirmed that democratic leader behavior encourages friendly, confiding conversations and group-minded proposals (Leavitt, 1965; Likert, 1967; McGregor, 1960; White & Lippitt, 1968). In addition, this leadership style tends to be more effective, resulting in stronger motivation and greater creativity among group members (Barker, 1979).

In addition to leadership characteristics, certain elements of group structure facilitate participation. These elements include group communication patterns (Bavelas, 1951), small group size (Patterson & Schaeffer, 1977; Wicker, 1969), and proximity of eye contact with the leader (Caproni, Levine, O'Neal, McDonald, & Garlwood, 1977). Conversely, participation decreases when one is evaluated unfavorably (Potter, 1977), when group size is large (Freedman, Carlsmith, & Sears, 1970; Wicker, 1969), or when a group member exerts unilateral control (Argyris, 1976).

Although organizations vary widely in their size, each is composed of small groups (Kirkpatrick, 1979; Smith, 1975). The emphasis on groups in organizations has resulted primarily from the division of labor. Large tasks are subdivided into smaller ones and groups form according to their function (Dunsing, 1978; Mills, 1970). Within such structures, small groups are used for every conceivable purpose.

In rehabilitation, the evaluation staff conference is a well-established and essential model of group behavior and decision-making (Couch & Brabham, 1970; Nadolsky & Brewer, 1977). Although most rehabilitation agencies and facilities use evaluation staff conferences as an instrument for group decision-making, it is ironic that there has been a lack of research into problem-solving styles and decision-making orientations in evaluation staff conferences and their impact on organizational effectiveness. With the absence of such investigations, it was deemed desirable to explore possible relationships between these two dimensions.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to determine if there were significant similarities or differences in problem-solving orientations and decision-making styles among a stratified sample of rehabilitation practitioners.

In analyzing data results in relation to this purpose, the researchers used analysis of variance procedures as the basis for interpretations. A .05 level of significance was used in determining acceptance or rejection of the research questions.


The study was conducted using a randomly selected sample of rehabilitation practitioners from a southeastern state. To permit expanded interpretations, this sample was stratified into three groups. These groups were private sector (Worker's Compensation) rehabilitation providers, rehabilitation facility staff, and state agency vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors. Private sector providers were chosen from the state Rehabilitation Directory, compiled by the state Division of Worker's Compensation, Bureau of Rehabilitation. Facility rehabilitation staff were chosen from a current member listing of the state Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (ARF). State agency VR counselors were selected from a roster of counselors employed by the state Division of Blind Services.

A total of 144 names were randomly selected, 48 representatives from each group. Each subject was provided a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Form G) and a Vroom-Yetton Problem Set 5. Intergroup response rates were 31% private sector, 73% rehabilitation facility staff, and 35% state VR counselors. Research materials were collected during May and June of 1987.


In the early twentieth century, pioneering work using psychological processes to interpret human behavior was conducted by Carl Jung. Jung's (1926) theory of psychological types has relevance to the level of participation decision-makers use when arriving at a decision (Kerin & Slocum, 1981). Two dichotomies can be combined to produce four combinations of perceptual and judgmental modes that are pertinent to participative decision-making. The first dichotomy, sensing-intuition, characterizes a person's perceptual tendencies. The second dichotomy, thinking-feeling, describes a person's judgmental predisposition. In small groups these might provide a basis for individual differences in problem solving styles.

In an effort to quantify these variances, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a self-administered survey, was developed. The MBTI inventory has four scales: extroversion-introversion, thinking-feeling, sensation-intuition, and judgment-perception (Buros, 1978).

Of these four scales, several studies have used the thinking-feeling and sensing-intuition scales in decision making (Kerin & Slocum, 1981; Myers & McCauley, 1975; Schwieger & Jago, 1982). Their efforts have proposed that intuitive types solve problems autocratically. Conversely, sensing types are more willing to rely on the resources of others, especially in complex situations where their expertise is limited. While thinking types are either uninterested or unaware of people's feelings, feeling types are influenced by the human side of issues.

Since its development, considerable research has documented the MBTI's reliability and validity (Carskadon, 1977). In non-managerial samples, Myers (1975) reported coefficients of internal consistency ranging from .44 to up to .83. Further evidence of the validity of the Myers-Briggs is found in Buros (1970, 1978), Carlyn (1977), and Carskadon (1977).

Since Lewin (1951) and Cronbach (1957) initially examined the interactive effects of individual and situational characteristics, there has been scholarly interest in participative decision-making (Cummings, Huber, & Arendt, 1974; Heller, 1971; Taylor & Dunnette, 1974). While researchers have investigated autocratic and participative decision-making behaviors, their empirical findings have lent credence to the efficacy of participative decision-making for organizational effectiveness. Field experiments by Coch and French (1948) and Strauss (in Whyte, 1955) reported impressive increases in productivity when workers participated in decision-making and goal setting. Katz, Macoby, and Morse (1950) and Vroom (1960) showed a positive relationship between the amount of influence workers were afforded in decisions that affected their individual and group performance.

Recognizing how decision-making contributes to personal and organizational effectiveness, Vroom and Yetton (1974) developed a decision-making theory that integrated various parameters for group or autocratic decision-making. The Vroom-Yetton decision-making model has both normative and descriptive characteristics. As a normative model, it illustrates which decision-making processes should be used in different situations to be effective. For this purpose, Vroom and Yetton developed the decision tree. To classify decision-making behavior, Vroom and Yetton standardized 30 authentic but hypothetical decision-making situations. Jointly, these cases comprise the Vroom-Yetton Problem Set 5.

Within the Problem Set, the decision processes specified for each problem are not arbitrary. For each decision-making situation contained in the Problem Set, a set of feasible decision processes called the "feasible set" is governed by a set of ten rules that protect the quality and acceptance by eliminating alternatives that jeopardize one or another of these decision outcomes (Vroom & Jago, 1978). Rules 1-4 protect the quality or rationality of the decision; Rules 5-8 insure the acceptance or commitment to the decision; and Rules 9 and 10 eliminate the use of group methods for individual problems and vice versa (Vroom & Yetton, 1974). The decision tree serves as a convenient structure for applying these rules. However, it is conceivable that there are some problem types for which only one appropriate decision-making process remains in the feasible set, and others for which two, three, four, or even five processes are possible alternatives.

Because responses to the Problem Set clearly measure behavioral intent and not necessarily behavior, concerns over external validity have been voiced (Argyris, 1976; Filly, House, & Kerr, 1976; Hoffman, 1974; Weisenberg, 1975). Another potentially crucial question has received less attention. Vroom and Yetton (1974) selected their methodology for its assurance of internal validity. However, Steinman (1974) and Jago (1978) revealed that, within the Problem Set, case descriptions of hypothetical decision-making depict different hierarchical levels of management. Because respondents must assume the role of manager in such cases, Steinman speculated that perceived appropriate leader behavior for different hierarchical levels may influence responses. Although Steinman's speculation was supported somewhat by Jago's (1978) study, Jago concluded that his investigation provided further support for the substantive conclusions of Vroom and Yetton. Vroom and Jago (1978) provided further evidence of the model's validity in that decisions in the feasible set were found significantly more successful than were decisions outside the feasible set. Vroom (1976) found that leader behavior consistent with the model's prescriptions were more likely to be successful than was the behavior that deviated from the model's prescriptions.

Results and Discussion

Two research questions were addressed in this research: a) Is there a difference in problem-solving orientation among the three groups of rehabilitation professionals and b) is there a difference in decision-making styles among the three groups of rehabilitation professionals?

The mean, standard deviation, standard error of the mean, and the range for the Myers-Briggs sensing-intuition and thinking-feeling scales and the Vroom-Yetton Problem Set 5 scores for each group and for the entire sample are presented in Tables 1-4. For all tables, private providers, facility staff, and state agency counselors are identified as Group 1, 2, and 3, respectively.

One statistic computed was the standard error of the mean. The standard error of the mean indicates, in raw score points, the amount that the mean may be expected to vary on repeated administrations of the Myers-Briggs and the Vroom-Yetton Problem Set 5 in comparison to similar populations. Since interpretations in this study are focused on differences at the group level, the standard error of the mean is more appropriate than the standard error of measurement.

Analysis of variance between each group was computed for the Myers-Briggs sensing-intuition and thinking-feeling scales. When analyzed, problem-solving orientation among the three groups of rehabilitation professionals were not significantly different. As Table 5 reveals, one-way analysis of variance for the sensing-intuition scale resulted in an F ratio equal to .5437 (p = .5835). Similarly, analysis of variance for the thinking-feeling scale, illustrated in Table 2, produced insignificant differentiation between groups (F = 500, p = .60).

In addition to the absence of any significant differences in problem-solving orientations, no distinct Myers-Briggs types were exhibited by any of the groups sampled. In determining typology for the Myers-Briggs, continuous scores measure the direction and strength of problem-solving preferences. Whereas an extreme continuous score on either dichogomy represents a strong attitudinal preference, scores near 100, such as those exhibited in this study, reflect no distinctive preference. Therefore, it is surmised that rehabilitation professionals, as a group, reveal no dominant perceptual or judgmental attitudes. In other words, those rehabilitation professionals included in this study were capable of all four problem-solving orientations (sensing-thinking, sensing-feeling, intuitive-thinking, and intuitive-feeling).

This finding contradicts previous research using the Myers-Briggs and rehabilitation counselors (Myers & McCauley, 1975). In that study, rehabilitation counselors were predominantly intuitive-feeling types. One extraneous factor which differntiates these studies and may account for the diverse results is the homogeneity of subjects. Whereas the Myers and McCauley study used rehabilitation counselors, this study included rehabilitation counselors, vocational counselors, rehabilitation nurses, and other related professionals.

Analysis of variance of Vroom-Yetton scores among the three groups of rehabilitation professionals was conducted to determine whether differences in decision-making styles existed among the three groups.

As Table 7 illustrates, analysis of variance was used to determine the degree and significance of differentiation between groups. When data concerning decision-making styles was compared, no significant intergroup variance was found at the .05 level of significance (F = 399, p = .672).

Without significant variances in decision-making between the three groups, a dominant decision-making style among rehabilitation professionals can be identified. Based on the scaling procedures developed for the Problem Set 5, the mean level of participation in this study reflected a consultative decision-making style. This finding clarifies earlier assertions about the group decision-making process in evaluation staff conferences. In their pioneering work, Couch and Brabham (1970) depicted group decision-making in staff conferences as a democratic and participative process.


Whereas previous studies focused on the intragroup dynamics of staff conferences, this study has provided empirical data about the personality determinants of problem-solving orientations and decision-making styles. In doing so, group decision-making in rehabilitaiton has been typified and the feasibility of evaluation staff conferences as a decision-making process reinforced.

Vroom-Yetton scores revealed a dominant consultative decision-making style for all rehabilitation practitioners serving as subjects. From this conclusion and those of other researchers, evaluation staff conferences represent a feasible process for consultative decision-making.

Analysis of variance procedures indicated no differences among the three groups of rehabilitation professionals on the sensing-intuition scale of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. the same was found to be true on the thinking-feeling scale. This finding, coupled with the mean scores for each group on these scales, infers that decision-making would be influenced by both judgmental and perceptual attitudes.

The field of rehabilitation has become increasingly more complex. The multi-disciplinary nature of services require that rehabilitation professionals function effectively and efficiently as members of teams charged with the responsibility of solving problems and making decisions.

Today's rehabilitaiton programs demand shorter, if any, client vocational evaluation, less time in facility-based adjustment programs, and a greater emphasis on the option of supported employment programs for the severely disabled. Achievement of these objectives requires rehabilitation professionals who possess both flexible problem-solving styles and a willingness to make decisions through consultation. Both of these characteristics were identified in the sample of rehabilitation practitioners included in this study.

Despite these findings, further investigation into group decision-making in rehabilitation is warranted. It would be interesting to combine the psychometric research design with a naturalistic group format. Whereas this study used psychometric assessment to measure individual decision-making characteristics, a naturalistic group format would have examined actual group decision-making behavior. In that manner, the predictive validity of both instruments, especially the Problem Set, could be investigated.

Furthermore, a group research design would have necessitated random subject selection on a group basis as opposed to an individual sampling process. Experimentally, a group selection process would have been more appropriate. For although there was interest in individual decision-making preferences, the rationale for this study was to determine how personal problem-solving characteristics relate to group decision-making staff conferences. Also, it would have been interesting to determine how personal problem-solving preferences interact with interpersonal dynamics to influence group decision-making. Then, consideration could have been given to such factors as group structure, grou interaction, and leadership. Hopefully, future investigations will address these issues.


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Author:Brown, Clarence D.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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