Tubbs' Systems Model
Stewart Tubbs "systems" approach to studying small group interaction led him to the creation of a four-phase model of group development:
Orientation: In this stage, group members get to know each other, they start to talk about the problem and they examine the limitations and opportunities of the project.
Conflict: Conflict is a necessary part of a group's development. Conflict allows the group to evaluate ideas and it helps the group avoid conformity and groupthink
Consensus: Conflict ends in the consensus stage, when group members compromise, select ideas and agree on alternatives.
Closure: In this stage, the final result is announced and group members reaffirm their support of the decision.
Fisher's Theory of Decision Emergence in Groups
Fisher outlines four phases through which task groups tend to proceed when engaged in decision making. By observing the distribution of act-response pairs (as known as "interacts") across different moments of the group process, Fisher noted how the interaction changed as the group decision was formulated and solidified. His method pays special attention to the "content" dimension of interactions by classifying statements in terms of how they respond to a decision proposal (e.g., agreement, disagreement, etc.).
Orientation: During the orientation phase, group members get to know each other and they experience a primary tension: the awkward feeling people have before communication rules and expectations are established. Groups should take time to learn about each other and feel comfortable communicating around new people.
Conflict: The conflict phase is marked by secondary tension, or tension surrounding the task at hand. Group members will disagree with each other and debate ideas. Here conflict is viewed as positive, because it helps the group achieve positive results.
Emergence: In the emergence phase, the outcome of the group's task and its social structure become apparent. Group members soften their positions and undergo and attitudinal change that makes them less tenacious in defending their individual viewpoint.
Reinforcement: In this stage, group members bolster their final decision by using supportive verbal and nonverbal communication.
Based on this categorization, Fisher created his "Decision Proposal Coding System" that identifies act-response pairs associated with each decision-making phase. Interestingly, Fisher observed that the group decision making process tended to be more cyclical and in some cases, almost erratic. He hypothesized that the interpersonal demands of discussion require "breaks" from task work. In particular, Fisher observed that there are a number of contingencies that might explain some of the decision paths taken by some groups. For instance, in modifying proposals, groups tend to follow one of two patterns. If conflict is low, the group will reintroduce proposals in less abstract, more specific language. When conflict is higher, the group might not attempt to make a proposal more specific but, instead, because disagreement lies on the basic idea, the group introduces substitute proposals of the same level of abstraction as the original.
Poole's Multiple-sequences Model
Marshall Scott Poole's model suggests that different groups employ different sequences in making decisions. In contrast to unitary sequence models, the multiple sequences model addresses decision making as a function of several contingency variables: task structure, group composition and conflict management strategies. Poole developed a descriptive system for studying multiple sequences, beyond the abstract action descriptions of previous studies. From Bales' Interaction Process Analysis System and Fisher's Decision Proposal Coding System, Poole proposes 36 clusters of group activities for coding group interactions and 4 cluster-sets: proposal development, socioemotional concerns, conflict and expressions of ambiguity. However, in his latter work, Poole rejected phasic models of group development and proposed a model of continuously developing threads of activity. In essence, discussions are not characterized by blocks of phases, one after another, but by intertwining tracks of activity and interaction.
Poole suggests three activity tracks: task progress, relational and topical focus. Interspersed with these are breakpoints, marking changes in the development of strands and links between them. Normal breakpoints pace the discussion with topic shifts and adjournments. Delays, another breakpoint, are holding patterns of recycling through information. Finally, disruptions break the discussion threads with conflict or task failure.
Task track: The task track concerns the process by which the group accomplishes its goals, such as dealing doing problem analysis, designing solutions, etc.
Relation track: The relation track deals with the interpersonal relationships between the group members. At times, the group may stop its work on the task and work instead on its relationships, share personal information or engage in joking.
Topic track: The topic track includes a series of issues or concerns the group have over time
Breakpoints: Breakpoints occur when a group switches from one track to another. Shifts in the
conversation, adjournment, or postponement are examples of breakpoints.