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A multi-level model of group cognitive style in strategic decision making.

Management teams and other groups play a key role in strategic decision making. These groups include top management teams (Hambrick and Mason, 1984), boards of directors (Forbes, 1999; Pettigrew, 1992), and planning task forces (Van de Ven, 1980). The acknowledgement of the importance of groups in strategic decision making has led to a stream of research termed organizational demographics (Hambrick and Mason, 1984). This research focuses on examining the relationships between certain group composition factors and both the strategic decision-making process that is used and ultimately organizational performance (Haleblian and Finkelstein 1993; Hambrick and Mason, 1984; Hurst et al., 1989; Peterson et al., 2003; Staw, 1991; Walsh and Fahey, 1986; Zaccaro, 2001; Zaccaro and Klimoski, 2002). While these authors explore the composite of individual

decision-making characteristics or demographics, we propose a new, group-level construct called group cognitive style (GCS), defined broadly as group-level patterns of behavior in the strategic decision-making process of a group.

Because research in group decision making has shown both consistency (Daft and Weick, 1984; Miles and Snow, 1978) and variability (Mintzberg et al., 1976) in the decision-making processes adopted by groups over time, it is critical that we begin to model the underlying factors that may explain these differences more clearly. In order to do this, we need to focus our research on group-level constructs, rather than on an aggregate or average of individual demographic and psychological factors currently used in organizational demographics research. As the use of group decision making in organizations continues to increase, researchers need a theoretical model that explains differences in decision making and problem solving at the group level of analysis. The model proposed here suggests that decision process differences are the result of differences in the cognitive style of the group as a whole. It is suggested that, just as individuals have a cognitive style, or a characteristic way of gathering and processing information for decision making, groups also develop such consistency in information processing and decision-making behavior. The cognitive style of the group is proposed to reflect differences in the composition and structure of the group, as well as the cognitive style and the social interaction of individual group members. In order to provide a foundation for developing a model of group cognitive style, we will begin with a brief overview of the organizational demographics literature in order to provide an understanding of why the concept of group cognitive style is needed to expand our understanding of organizational demographics and strategic decision-making processes. We will then discuss why the concept of group cognitive style is important and how it differs from the concept of individual cognitive style. Finally, we will develop propositions followed by a discussion of the managerial implications of exploring the concept of group cognitive style and conclude with suggestions for future research.


Research in organizational demographics focuses mainly on identifying the individual characteristics of decision making and aggregating or averaging these characteristics to explore the relationship between the homogeneity or heterogeneity of the top management team and strategic decision-making processes or organizational performance. Individual variables that have been examined in the organizational demographics literature include both demographic and psychological variables. Demographic variables such as an individual's age, tenure in the firm, education level, and functional background have been examined (Bantel and Jackson, 1989; Hambrick and Mason, 1984), as well as psychological variables such as locus of control, tolerance for ambiguity, and cognitive style (Hurst et al., 1989; Slater, 1989).

The main weakness of these studies lies in the fact that while individual characteristics can be measured, aggregating the individual-level data into a "group-level variable" poses both conceptual and statistical problems (Morgeson and Hofmann, 1999; Roberts et al., 1978). To date, most of this work has utilized an average of individual measures or a measure of dispersion to indicate how homogeneous a group is on certain variables, and has focused mainly on aggregating demographic variables. Very little work has been done on group-level psychological dimensions that affect decision making.

One notable exception is the work of Hurst, Rush, and White (1989). In their development of the creative management model of strategic decision making, these authors argue that differences in cognitive preferences, or differences in the way that individuals prefer to process information, have an impact on their ability to identify and exploit strategic opportunities. Their model suggests that there is a relationship between individual cognitive style and the definition of an issue as strategic versus non-strategic.

While the variables examined in organizational demographics research have been linked to firm performance (Bantel and Jackson, 1989; Eisenhardt and Schoonhoven, 1990; Finkelstein and Hambrick, 1990; Wiersema and Bantel, 1992), many researchers believe that other, possibly more important mediating and/ or moderating, variables are being ignored. For instance, Priem, Lyon, and Dess (1999) argue that because the majority of this research has focused on individual decision making, there is still a large "causal gap" in the empirical literature between executive demographics, decision-making processes, and firm performance. They suggest that variables such as group interaction processes, group affect, and effective implementation still need to be explored in the strategic decision-making process. Lawrence describes this gap as the "black box of organizational demography" (1997: 1). She argues that scholars are making a congruence assumption when they assume that demographic predictors intended to represent top management team cognitive heterogeneity are congruent with the intervening processes through which they are theorized to influence firm performance. She goes on to say that the intermediate steps in theorizing causal chains (i.e., that TMT cognitive heterogeneity produces greater conflict, which improves decision quality and ultimately firm performance) are not tested but are assumed to be true in demographics-based research.

If we are making congruence assumptions between top management team demographics and strategic decision-making processes, it is clear that the exploration of these processes at the group level of analysis and the development of group-level constructs is imperative. In the next section, we argue that the concept of group cognitive style is an important construct for increasing our understanding of the causal chain between individual decision makers and organizational performance.


In strategic decision-making literature, it has been suggested that differences in strategic decision-making outcome, defined in such terms as differences in speed to a solution, number of errors, member satisfaction, and group cohesiveness, are a function of the type of decision process used, the social interaction between group members, and the nature of the group's composition (Milliken and Vollrath, 1991; Mintzberg, 1978). When decisions are made in a group setting, it is a social situation and the group's decision may be influenced by social interaction among the various members of the decision-making team. Hurst et al. (1989) suggested that who interacts with whom and how they interact will have an impact on strategic decision-making processes. They also suggested that differences in the cognitive style composition of the decision-making team leads to differences in problem identification that leads to differences in decision processes. Subsequently, differences in decision processes affect firm strategy and performance. Specifically, they proposed a number of very interesting relationships. First, they proposed that organizations, like individuals, have distinct cognitive preferences. Second, they suggested that differences in the cognitive preference composition of the top management team will lead to different "patterns of behavior" over time.

In this article, we develop the concept of group cognitive style and address three main questions. These include: 1) Where does group cognitive style come from?, 2) Can decision-making behaviors be predicted on the basis of group cognitive style?, and 3) Do differences in behavioral patterns explained by the concept of group cognitive style account for differences in the type of solution that is chosen?


Individual Cognitive Style

Cognitive style has received a great deal of attention in the decision-making literature, and is defined as the way in which individuals process and evaluate information. The link between cognitive style (termed decision style or problem-solving style in some studies), and decision behavior was first proposed by Ackhoff (1962) and Churchman (1961). Empirically, the effects of cognitive style on the decision process have been demonstrated by a number of authors. Mason and Mitroff (1973) examined cognitive style based on the Jungian dimensions of sensing/intuition and thinking/feeling (lung, 1971), and McKenney and Keen (1974) operationalized cognitive style in terms of information gathering and information evaluation. Driver and Mock (1975) examined cognitive style with regard to the number of alternatives generated and the amount of information used. Johnson (1978) defined cognitive style in terms of information gathering and information processing, and Basadur, Graen and Wakabayashi (1990) examined cognitive style in terms of how knowledge is gained and how knowledge is used.

Because the Jungian terminology of cognitive styles used by Mason and Mitroff (1973) is often used to discuss and measure cognitive style, and we will use it to discuss the concept of group cognitive style, we will provide a brief overview of Jung's work. Jung (1923) proposed that individuals could be categorized based on the pairing between their perception and judgment tendencies. Perception involves all the ways of becoming aware of things, people, happenings, or ideas while judgment involves all of the ways of coming to conclusions about what has been perceived. Perception of information gathered can be further subdivided into two categories, sensing versus intuition. Sensing individuals utilize their five senses to gather information from the environment while intuitive individuals tend to focus on possibilities, meanings, and relationships by way of insight and deductive thinking. Judgment or decision making can also be further subdivided into two categories, thinking versus feeling. Thinking individuals make logical connections during the decision process. They rely on principles of cause and effect and they make decisions analytically by examining facts. Feeling individuals, on the other hand, weigh the relative values and merits of an issue, and rely on an understanding of personal values and group values in decision making.

Jung also spent a great deal of time exploring how people prefer to process the information they are gathering. He termed this dimension extraversion versus introversion. Extraverted individuals process information through social interaction. They develop and build on their ideas through interaction with others. Introverted individuals process information internally. They prefer to develop ideas and make decisions in isolation. The behavioral tendencies often observed for each of the dimensions proposed by Jung are shown in Table 1.

In the Hurst et al. (1989) article mentioned earlier, it was suggested that differences in strategic decision-making behavior will result in differences in the decision process, differences in the type of solutions which are chosen, and ultimately differences in the resulting organizational strategy. For instance, a sensing manager would most likely define a problem in immediate, operational terms while an intuitive manager, able to see the big picture, would more likely define a problem in strategic terms. When a problem is defined as strategic versus operational, most likely, a solution will be chosen which matches the problem definition. Cognitive style, or how individuals gather and evaluate information, would therefore have an effect on the resulting organizational strategy. But what happens to the concept of cognitive style when the decision is made by a group of individuals or a management team? This requires moving the concept of cognitive style from the individual level to the group level of conceptualization and analysis.

Group Cognitive Style

Despite the development of the concept of cognitive style at the individual level, its relevance to group decision making and organization direction has not been fully or systematically exploited. Milliken and Martins (1996) claim that very few organizational studies actually focus on how cognitive diversity in the composition of a group with respect to attitudes, personality characteristics, or cultural values may be associated with different patterns of behavior. They argue that demographic heterogeneity is used merely as a proxy for cognitive variety within the top management team and that organizational demographics research does not take into account differences that may result from the social interaction of group members who are cognitively heterogeneous. For instance, while cognitive diversity may aid in the generation and evaluation of strategic alternatives, that same cognitive diversity may reduce communication among group members (Zenger and Lawrence, 1989).

In order to develop the concept of group cognitive style, it is necessary to move the concept of cognitive style from the individual to the group level of analysis. This is not a new concept. Recently, a number of authors have proposed that it is possible to utilize theories developed at one level of analysis (e.g., individual decision-making models) to understand similar phenomena at other levels of analysis (e.g., group and/or organizational decision making) (House et al., 1995). Morgeson and Hofmann (1999) argue that integrating variables across multiple levels of analysis may provide a more truthful account of organizational phenomena. Such an approach was suggested by Simon (1987) when he proposed that the knowledge we have gained of individual decision making and problem solving should be applied to larger social entities such as groups and organizations. Rajagopalan, Rasheed and Datta (1993) suggest that cognitive psychological theories of decision making (e.g. Bateman and Ziethaml, 1989; Kahneman and Tversky, 1984) and theories of group decision making (Gladstein and O'Reilly, 1985) might contribute to a better understanding of the strategic decision process used by top management teams.

When a theory spans the levels of organizational behavior and performance, typically describing some combination of individuals, dyads, teams, businesses, corporations, and industries, it is termed a multilevel theory (Klein et al., 1999). A multi-level effect exists when a phenomenon or a relationship between variables is found to occur at more than one level or unit of analysis (Rousseau, 1985). Klein, Dansereau, and Hall make the claim that theories that specify such effects are "uniquely powerful and parsimonious" (1994: 223). Their power stems from their ability to utilize research from one level to speak to problems at another level. Their parsimony stems from their reduction of the inevitable confusion that occurs when researchers from different disciplines are studying the same phenomenon without knowing it (Johns, 1999).

We are not the first to argue for a multi-level approach to the concept of cognitive style. A number of authors have suggested that just as individuals have stable cognitive preferences, ongoing, intact groups may also have stable cognitive preferences that have developed over time and remain relatively consistent across situations (Myers and McCaulley, 1985; Staw, 1990). Staw (1991) suggests that we can better understand organizational decision making by examining the psychological processes of managers and viewing them as "group dispositions" which develop over time and remain relatively consistent across decision settings. In essence, he is suggesting that the whole notion of behavioral dispositions (or "styles") be generalized to management teams, or even to the organization as a whole. Strategic decision making often involves information processing and evaluation by a group of decision makers rather than by an isolated individual and, therefore, it is reasonable to propose that a group-level variable or group disposition of importance would be group cognitive style.

When discussing group-level variables, the whole group, not individual actions or characteristics of individuals within the group, is examined as an entity. While the concept of group cognitive style has not been specifically defined in the literature, the idea of group-level cognition or collective cognition has been discussed. The organizational behavior and decision-making literature is replete with examples of collective versus individual cognition. Collective cognition is displayed by such phenomenon as "groupthink" (Janis, 1972), which refers to group-level information bias; "solution-mindedness" (Hoffman and Maier, 1967), where group decision makers were found to agree on a solution very early in the problem-solving process, regardless of their initial differences of opinion; and social decision scheme theory (Davis, 1973), which examines the effects of various individual preferences on group decision making and demonstrates how group preferences differ from those of individuals within the group.

One of the important outcomes of organizational demographics research has been development of the concept of dominant management logic or the cognitive maps (or minds) of the top management team. With regard to organizational cognitive maps, Prahalad and Bettis (1986) proposed that companies' strategic decisions are guided by a dominant management logic that is a shared understanding of the factors relevant to the business strategy and the relationship between these factors. They suggest that the dominant logic is a shared schema (a term generally used to describe individual-level cognitive structures) among the dominant coalition of a firm. Unfortunately, while the concept is appealing, they do not elaborate on the process by which individual-level cognitions are combined into organizational schemata (Schwenk, 1995). While these authors define the dominant management logic as the way the top management team members collectively understand their environment, we are proposing that the dominant logic is the result of social interaction over time and this continued social interaction also leads to a cognitive "style" or patterns of behavior by the top management team that we have termed "group cognitive style."

Taking a multi-level approach to theorizing about cognitive style, we make the assumption that, just like individuals, groups develop a preference for information processing and information evaluation, and these preferences are reflected in a "group cognitive style." Over time, as the group members interact with each other and with the decision-making environment, they develop patterns of behavior in terms of how they gather and process information and how they evaluate that information in order to make a decision. These characteristic patterns of behavior are defined as group cognitive style. Using the Jungian typology as a basis for developing cognitive style at the group level, an extraverted group, like an extraverted individual, would be expected to process information through social interaction with individuals and groups external to the group, while an introverted group would prefer to develop ideas and process information within the group, among group members. For example, an extraverted group might bring in experts and/or consultants to assist in making decisions while an introverted group would be more likely to discuss the problem and make a decision using the expertise of the group members. A sensing group would be expected to gather information and define problems in immediate, detailed, operational terms, while an intuitive group would be expected to gather and process information in abstract, theoretical terms focusing on possibilities, meanings and strategic relationships. A thinking group would be expected to evaluate information using logic and facts, while a feeling group would be expected to evaluate information by weighing the relative values and merits of an issue. A perceptive group, with a preference for gathering information rather than evaluating information, would tend to continue to seek alternatives and evaluate those alternatives using multiple criteria, while a judging group, preferring order, structure, and seeking closure, would tend to evaluate information and select an alternative very quickly. We have all experienced groups that cannot make decisions. It is likely that this type of group would be a perceiving group rather than a judging group.

In the next three sections, we will return to the questions proposed earlier and develop propositions related to these questions. These questions included: 1) Where does group cognitive style come from?, 2) Can decision-making behaviors be predicted on the basis of group cognitive style?, and 3) Do differences in behavioral patterns explained by the concept of group cognitive style account for differences in the type of solution that is chosen?


Where Does Group Cognitive Style Come From?

Given that over time a group develops a group cognitive style, the next obvious issue concerns how this style develops or is constructed. A number of possible sources that might determine group cognitive style are suggested in the literature. One possible explanation of group cognitive style may be the approach taken by organizational demographics researchers, who define group-level constructs by determining the greatest number (i.e., simple majority) or average of the individuals' demographic characteristics. With regard to cognitive style, for instance, if a group of four has three individuals who are thinkers versus feelers, a simple majority would suggest that the group would be a thinking group. Likewise, if a group has two very weak thinkers and two very strong feelers, averaging individual cognitive styles would suggest that the group would be a feeling group. These approaches would lead to the following competing propositions:

[P.sub.1]: The majority of individual cognitive styles will predict group cognitive style.

[P.sub.2]: The average of individual cognitive styles will predict group cognitive style.

Group cognitive style might also be determined by the structure of the group, specifically statuses and roles of individual members. The status system within the group reflects the general pattern of social influence among group members and research has indicated that people with higher status speak more often and are spoken to more often than others (Ridgeway, 1981; Strodtbeck and Lipinski, 1985). In work on social networks, this individual would occupy a position of high indegree centrality (Brass, 1992). Because the highest status individual or individual with high indegree centrality interacts more with others in the group, the group cognitive style may reflect the individual cognitive style of the highest status member of the group. In addition, status or distribution of power among group members is positively related to use of political influence tactics (Ginsberg, 1990). In any group there may be high-status members who have the power to influence others. It has been shown that when high-status individuals are present in a group, both high- and low-status members direct their communication to them (Hurwitz et al., 1968).

Therefore, in the context of group decision making, information is exchanged through a communication structure that is dependent on the status of group members. Over time, the group, utilizing the communication structure, begins to formulate general agreement regarding decision behaviors that ought to be employed in processing available information and/or arriving at decisional choices (Hirokawa and Johnston, 1989). These agreed-upon patterns of behavior would suggest the following proposition:

[P.sub.3]: The cognitive style of the highest status individual will predict group cognitive style.

Roles are also important in the group setting, and one role that can be found in nearly all groups is that of a leader. Research in the area of implicit leadership theories, relevant to emergent as well as to appointed and elected leaders, indicates that people apparently possess shared beliefs about leaders' behaviors and traits, which affect how they respond or behave toward a leader (Lord, 1985; Rush and Russell, 1988). Two types of leaders are suggested in the literature--task leaders and socio-emotional leaders. A task leader concentrates on task completion, while a socio-emotional leader focuses on being supportive and considerate of group members. Because the leadership role is so important in the group setting, it may have some influence on group cognitive style. In other words, group cognitive style may be a reflection of the individual cognitive style of the leader as mediated through social influence processes.

As mentioned earlier, Hurst et al. (1989) suggest that the patterns of interaction among team members (i.e., who interacts with whom and how they interact) will be a critical aspect of group cognitive style preference. Social influence processes may determine the extent to which individual cognitions are employed during group decision-making deliberations (Walsh et al., 1988). The participation level of each member of the top management group determines the relative use of individual cognitive styles by the group (Walsh and Fahey, 1986). For example, if one member of the management team is appointed or elected as the team leader, his or her participation level in the decision task would naturally be higher than other members. In another case, a leader may emerge due to his or her concern for group members. In this situation, his or her participation in the decision process may be higher than other members. In both examples, the cognitive style of the team leader(s), either the task or socio-emotional leader, may determine the group's cognitive style. This would suggest the following propositions:

[P.sub.4]: The cognitive style of the task leader will predict group cognitive style.

[P.sub.5]: The cognitive style of the socio-emotional leader will predict group cognitive style.

Group cognitive style may also, as Mintzberg (1978) suggested, be affected by the social interaction of group members. A strongly extraverted individual who dominates the social interaction in the group may lead to a group cognitive style that is a reflection of the individual cognitive style of that individual. If, for instance, one person completely dominates the discussion and decision process involved in deciding whether or not to enter a new market segment, other group members may not have the opportunity to contribute to the process. In this case, the group cognitive style may be a reflection of the most extraverted member of the group. This possibility is reflected in the following proposition:

[P.sub.6]: The cognitive style of the most extraverted individual will predict group cognitive style.

The proposed relationships between individual cognitive style, group structure, status, roles, and social interaction variables, and group cognitive style are illustrated in Figure I.


Can Decision-Making Behaviors be Predicted on the Basis of Group Cognitive Style?

The general proposition is that differences in group cognitive style will result in differences in the decision-making behavior and the decision-making process. The decision process is normally defined in terms of four stages: 1) problem definition, 2) information acquisition, 3) information evaluation, and 4) choice. In this section, each of these stages will be examined in relation to differences in group cognitive style.

Problem Definition. A problem can be defined on a continuum from operational to strategic. Strategic problems require strategic solutions that involve long-term decisions that determine the future direction of the organization. At the other end of the continuum, operational problems are day-to-day problems that require operational solutions. Many of these decisions are related to staffing, purchasing, and work flow. Carlyn (1977) found that intuitive managers defined problems in broad, global terms while sensing managers defined problems in terms of situational control. Roach (1986) also found that executives (those making strategic decisions) were more often intuitive than sensing, and supervisors (those dealing with operational, day-to-day decisions) were more often sensing than intuitive. When translated to the group level of analysis, this would lead to the following proposition:

[P.sub.7]: Intuitive groups will define problems in strategic terms while sensing groups will define problems in operational terms.

Information Acquisition. Extraverts prefer acquiring and processing information through social interaction while introverts prefer to process information internally. This would indicate that extraverted groups would prefer to interact with individuals and groups outside their own group in order to gather and process information while introverts would prefer to process information internally, between group members. This is reflected in the proposition below:

[P.sub.8]: Extraverted groups will gather more information from external sources, while introverted groups will gather more information from internal sources.

Information Evaluation. In order to evaluate information, group members must interact and communicate with one another. The two main types of interaction or evaluation are termed instrumental and expressive (Bales, 1950). Instrumental interaction is characterized by asking for information and giving suggestions in problem-solving groups. Expressive interaction is characterized by affective or socio-emotional behaviors such as affection, dependency, and support toward a fellow group member or toward the group. In terms of cognitive style, thinking individuals tend to rely on logical connections, cause and effect, and the analysis of facts in the decision process. The feeling individual, on the other hand, weighs the relative values and merits of an issue, and relies on an understanding of personal values and group values in decision making.

It is likely that the group cognitive style will determine the type of interaction that occurs in the group setting. A more thinking group would be likely to exhibit instrumental interaction during the evaluation process, while a more feeling group would likely exhibit expressive interaction during the evaluation process. This is reflected in the proposition below:

[P.sub.9]: Thinking groups will exhibit more instrumental interaction behaviors, while feeling groups will exhibit more expressive interaction behavior.

Choice. The choice stage of the decision process is characterized by selecting among alternatives. In terms of cognitive style, this primarily involves judgment versus perception. As mentioned above, judging individuals prefer to evaluate information and come to a decision while perceptive individuals prefer to continue gathering information and remain flexible. At the group level of analysis, this would indicate that judging groups would follow a more structured decision process than perceiving groups and that perceiving groups would utilize more criteria, develop more alternatives and take longer to come to a decision. These characteristics are captured in the following proposition.

[P.sub.10]: Perceiving groups will use more decision criteria, develop more alternatives, and take longer to make decisions than judging groups.

Do Differences in Behavioral Patterns Explained by the Concept of Group Cognitive Style Account for Differences in the Type of Solution that is Chosen?

As discussed above, solutions can be characterized as either operational or strategic, and the definition of a problem as either operational or strategic would be related to the type of solution that is chosen. As discussed in the Hurst et al. study (1989), individual differences in cognitive style impact one's ability to identify and exploit strategic opportunities. They proposed that there was a relationship between individual cognitive style and the definition of an issue as strategic versus non-strategic. This finding at the individual level of analysis should hold true at the group level of analysis as well. This is reflected in our final proposition:

[P.sub.11]: Definition of a problem as a strategic problem will result in the selection of a strategic solution, while definition of a problem as an operational problem will result in the selection of an operational solution.

The complete multi-level model of group cognitive style as it relates to the strategic decision-making process as well as the decision outcome is shown in Figure II.



A review of the literature concerning strategic decision making indicated that very little research has been done which attempts to link the psychological characteristics of an entire group or groups of decision makers to the strategic decision-making processes of the organization. While models such as the one proposed by Mintzberg (1978) suggest that organizational direction results from a stream of decisions made by individuals and/or groups at all levels of the organization, the majority of the research examining organizational direction has focused on individual decision makers rather than on groups of decision makers. At the individual level of analysis, research has shown that decision makers display consistent patterns of decision-making behavior. The general question we addressed was whether or not a similar phenomenon could be identified at the group level of analysis. We have introduced the concept of group cognitive style and defined it as a group's preferred way of gathering, processing, and evaluating information.

We have sought to address these issues by suggesting that 1) group decision-making style could be predicted from individual cognitive style, 2) group decision-making processes could be predicted on the basis of the group's cognitive style, and 3) there is a relationship between the way a problem is defined by a group and the solution which the group chooses.

Therefore, we argue that the notion of group cognitive style provides a missing link, or at least partially fills a void in much of the conceptual and empirical work designed to link individual decision-making processes to strategic decision making and organizational direction. Studies that have addressed linkages between strategic decision processes and organizational direction (Bourgeois, 1980; Mintzberg et al., 1976) have typically paid little attention to the role of group-level information-processing constructs such as group cognitive style.

Characteristics of group decision-making processes have been analyzed within the strategy literature by Bourgeois and Eisenhardt (1988). They observed that better decisions (as measured by firm performance) were made by top management teams that acted quickly and that, contrary to previous assumptions, the faster decision-making teams used more information and more group discussion of that information than slow decision-making teams. We would propose that the concept of group cognitive style might explain these findings. If a group of decision makers or the top management team have been working together for an extended period of time, we suggest that they may have developed a group cognitive style that facilitates strategic decision making and the use of information in that decision-making process.

Research on diversity and/or heterogeneity of decision-making groups or the top management team has shown, in many cases, that diversity and/or heterogeneity in the group improves the decision-making process (Bantel and Jackson, 1989; Eisenhardt and Schoonhoven, 1990; Finkelstein and Hambrick, 1990; Wiersema and Bantel, 1992). Research has also shown that diversity of participants, without sharing or integrating their perspectives, does not enhance group performance. We propose that this integration of diverse perspectives is in fact group cognitive style.

Managerial Implications

This research suggests that a focus on the cognitive processes of decision-making groups within the organization may offer substantially greater power to predict strategic decision-making processes, the types of solutions that are habitually chosen, and possibly even firm performance based on those solutions. The model has practical implications that should be discussed.

One practical application of the concept of group cognitive style may lie in selecting or designing groups of decision makers to match a specific decision task or portion of a decision task. It may be that certain group cognitive styles are more effective during different stages of the decision-making process. For instance, perhaps perceiving groups who prefer gathering information rather than making decisions should be used in the early stages of the decision process. Judging groups, with a preference for evaluation and decision making, should be used in later stages. Perhaps extraverted groups will be more effective in service-based industries where an external focus on customers is imperative, while introverted groups who are internally focused might be more effective in production-based or commodity-based industries.

This model also has significant practical implications in terms of organizational development and managerial interventions. When group cognitive style is not effective in response to environmental challenges, interventions are necessary if organizational decline is to be avoided. Environmental challenges that exceed the bounds or capabilities of certain group cognitive styles create the need for new perspectives or a new group style. New or different interpretations of environmental context may be required. Such intervention possibilities range from the infusion of new members with different cognitive styles to the group to the most drastic type of intervention, replacement of the entire decision-making group or even the entire top management team.

The concept of group cognitive style may also provide an explanation for strategic mal-adaptation or stagnation. Empirical research and the popular business press are replete with examples of firms that have clung tenaciously to their strategies long after environmental change had doomed them to failure. For example, IBM continued producing and servicing mainframe computers long after market demand for this product considerably weakened. The obvious theoretical and empirical question is: Why do firms such as IBM persist in this behavior? The concept of group cognitive style may provide one answer to this question. Companies, like individuals, tend to resist change. When we develop a "style" of decision making, we tend to continue to use that style even in the face of information that indicates that it may no longer be effective. If the team at IBM that was in charge of manufacturing and product development was an introverted team, it would not look to outside consultants or other individuals for recommendations on product development. If it were a sensing team versus an intuitive team, its decision-making process would focus on the immediate situation rather than the long-term situation. If it was a perceiving team versus a judging team, it would prefer to continue gathering information rather than making a decision. Even if it realized that the environment was changing, the decision to stop producing mainframe computers might not be made.

Lastly, in more general terms, managers must realize that in order to effectively manage work groups and decision-making teams, they must understand the underlying psychological impact of individual cognitive styles and social interaction. With a better understanding of the concept of group cognitive style, managers may be able to create groups with different strengths based on the composition of group members. For instance, if information is needed from outside the group or the organization, an extraverted group might be more effective than an introverted group or if time is not a factor in the decision-making process a perceiving group would be likely to come up with more alternatives and thus possibly a better decision than a judging group with the tendency to make a decision quickly without gathering additional information.

Implications for Future Research

In considering future research implications, a number of issues should be addressed and issues previously discussed should be reiterated. The concept of group cognitive style provides the beginnings of a rich conceptual framework to explain strategic behavior in an organization, and ultimately the direction the organization will take. Research could benefit by moving beyond the use of demographics as proxies for other heterogeneity constructs. As we propose in our model, it is important to directly conceptualize and measure cognitive constructs that researchers assume underlie these demographic variables. Since our propositions are potentially competing explanations of the development of group cognitive style, empirical research is needed to determine what individual cognitive style composition and social interaction variables actually determine this group-level construct. Given that many investigators agree that group-level analysis is needed (Hambrick, 1987; Staw, 1991), in-depth case analysis could provide the foundation for the development of a group cognitive style scale.

An interesting question for future research concerns the homogeneity or heterogeneity both within decision-making groups and across groups within an organization. Homogeneity of groups within the organization may lead to "tunnel vision" on the part of the organization, while heterogeneity of group styles may lead to an organization which is adaptive and responsive to the environment. While some research has been done in this area (Hambrick, 1987; Hambrick and Mason, 1984), it has focused mainly on demographic variables rather than psychological variables.

Research that examines group-level psychological variables is important. All of the issues discussed in this section, and perhaps many more, may be answered by focusing research efforts on examining the role that group cognitive style plays in the process of organizational decision making.
Table 1: Behavior Tendencies of Jungian Dimensions

Jungian Dimensions Behavioral Tendencies

Perception Like to gather information.
 Often move from one project to another.
 Prefer to remain flexible and are
 spontaneous and adaptable.

Sensing Focus on immediate experience.
 Strong observation and memory skills.

Intuition Have future orientation.
 Tend to be theoretical, abstract

Judgment Like to evaluate information.
 Tend to finish tasks before moving on.
 Prefer order and structure and like to
 make plans.

Thinking Rely on cognition over affect.
 May appear impersonal.

Feeling Rely on affect over cognition.
 Tend to use logic to support feelings.

Extraversion Verbalize ideas in order to reinforce
 Respond to questions quickly.
 Prefer face-to-face meetings.

Introversion Seldom verbalize ideas or opinions.
 Respond only after reflection.
 Prefer written forms of communication.


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Nancy H. Leonard

Assistant Professor of Management

West Virginia University

Laura L. Beauvais

Professor of Management

University of Rhode Island

Richard W. Scholl

Professor of Management

University of Rhode Island
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Author:Leonard, Nancy H.; Beauvais, Laura L.; Scholl, Richard W.
Publication:Journal of Managerial Issues
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Date:Mar 22, 2005
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