Participation Theories: Volume 2 Chapter 4 of Bess & Dee

There are instances in which individuals within an organization are capable of making decisions without the influence of other individuals or groups. The question becomes when it is proper to incorporate the influences of other individuals or groups. Bess and Dee describe three theories that address the issue of when it is appropriate “for a decision to be made unilaterally versus through a group structure “(Bess & Dee, 2012, p. 606).

Group Versus Individual Decision Making

The theory of group versus individual decision making was developed by the researchers John W. Thibaut and Harold H. Kelley. The theory answered “when group versus individual decision making” would be more effective during the decision making process (Bess & Dee, 2012, p. 606). Thibaut and Kelley, more specifically, determined the conditions in which it would be prudent to use the individual versus decision making process, and whether one or the other would be a more effective process. The criteria that researchers have used to determine which would be prudent are as follows:

1)      The nature of the problem to be solved: whether the situation calls for simple, minute steps, or more complicated and complex multiple steps.

2)      The distribution of talent in the group: are the talents evenly distributed amongst the members of the group? Do they all possess the same skills, are the talents mutually exclusive and unique only to each individual member of the group?

Ultimately, Thibaut and Kelley determined “that the simpler the task (versus complex) and the more that talent is homogeneously (versus heterogeneously) distributed, the more effective individual decision making will be” (Bess & Dee, 2012, p. 606). The following model provides a reference as to when it is necessary to use individual versus group decision making.

Table 4.7

Conditions Predicting the Efficiency of Group Versus Individual Decision Making

Adapted from Bess and Dee, 2008

Problem Type



Distribution of Talent











Shared Decision Making The theory of shared decision making has had a vast history of development by the researchers Victor Vroom, Phillip Yetton, and Arthor Jago . Vroom and Yetton, and Vroom and Jago, determined that “even in hierarchical systems like bureaucracies, the question of participation is central to understanding effective decision making” (Bess & Dee, 2012, p. 608). In the shared decision making theory, the question, as with other participation theories, will have the final authority to make decision within an organization. Vroom, Yetton, and Jago also developed the “varying degrees of participation”, which “are arrayed on a continuum from complete leader autonomy, to sharing with subordinates or colleagues, to complete delegation to subordinates or colleagues” (Bess & Dee, 2012, p. 609). The following is a decision tree, developed by Vroom and Jago (1988), used to determine the extent of participation in decision making:


Adopted from Vroom and Jago (1988)

The Zone of Acceptance

The final theory of the three participation theories was developed by Wayne Hoy and Cecil Miskel, which questions whether or not members within the organization seek to accept the responsibility of decision making or leave it to the supervisors to be the ultimate authority (Bess & Dee, 20128, p. 614). According to Hoy and Miskel, “there are two tests that can be employed to see if organizational members should be involved in a particular decision:

  • 1)      Test of relevance: whether or not subordinates have a “high personal stake” in the decision. If the answer is yes, then the subordinate would want to be involved with the decision making process.</li></li></li></li></li>
  • 2)   Test of expertise: whether the expertise of the subordinates are warranted or sought by the leaders within the organization. Rather than have an option to choose to participate in the decision making process, the leaders make the decision as to whether or not the expertise of the subordinates is needed.</li></li>

    Bess and Dee note that timing is important when determining the need for subordinate involvement in the decision making process. Early involvement is necessary if “it is important to improve the quality of decision” (Bess & Dee, 2008, p. 615). If morale is low amongst the staff, then it will be important for the leaders to incorporate the knowledge base of the subordinates (Bess & Dee, 2012, p. 615).

    Further Reading:

    Group Versus Individual Decision Making:

    Michaelsen, L.K., Black, R.H., Watson, W.E. (1989). A Realistic Test of Individual Versus Group Consensus Decision Making. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 74.

    Michaelsen, L.K., Sharp, W., Watson, W.E. (1991). Member Competence, Group Interaction, and Group Decision Making: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 76.

    Shared Decision Making

    Van Ginkel, W., Van Knippenberg, D., Tindale, R.S. (2009). Team Reflexivity, Development of Shared Task Representations, and the Use of Distributed Information in Group Decision Making. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 13(4).doi:10.1037/a0016045.

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  • Zone of Accepance:

    Marsden, D. (2007). Individual Employee Voice and Performance Management in Public Services. Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings. doi:10.5465/AMBPP.2007.26523083.




  • References

    Bess, J.L., Dee, J.R. (2012). Understanding College and University Organization: Theory for Effective Policy and Practice, Vol. 2. Stylus Publishing, LLC. Sterling, VA. 

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