Fisher's Theory of Decision Emergence
Fisher's theory of decision emergence includes four phases which a group goes through in the decision making process. According to Fisher the distribution of different tasks and decision making changes a team and, when managed successfully, it makes the team stronger.
- The first phase is the orientation phase, where team members establish relationships but also tensions. Effective communication is very important in this phase but it is also quite difficult because team members may not know each other well enough for complete trust to exist.
- Next comes the conflict phase. New ideas will be discussed and there may well be significant tension as the proposers and champions of alternative approaches interact. If a natural order within the team emerges then a strong team can result. However, in some teams the conflict continues and competing factions can form.
- The next phase is emergence, where the outcome of the conflict phase takes form. During this phase some people may need to soften their positions so as not to seem dominating. Individuals may need to put the interests of the team above their own personal needs and decisions.
- The final phase is the reinforcement phase. Here all members of the team need to commit to the objectives and plans, whether they agree with them personally or not.
This theory is evident within all of our teambuilding activities.
It is particularly significant in our NASA activity where teams are given a crash landing scenario and are required to rate a list of items needed in importance from 1 -15. First comes orientation where they discuss the scenario, then comes conflict as each member argues their reasoning for putting the items in the order that they believe. Emergence follows as each member realises that not everyone can be correct. Listening to each individual point of view is important here in order to reach the final phase of reinforcement where the team regroup and agree on the end result, regardless of whether they would have personally come to the same conclusion if working alone.
In some cases, where conflict is low, this process will be relatively easy. However, there can be significant disagreement at the various stages that Fisher proposes and the team may become stuck in that phase.
Breaking down the progress of a team through a task in this way is useful because it helps people to understand the stage their team is at and identify specifically what the problem might be and how they might solve it.
Fisher’s theory covers similar ground to Tuckman’s very popular Forming Storming Norming Performing model. It is worth putting the two side by side and deciding which resonates more with your particular situation. In some cases it may be appropriate to discuss both with your team.