Critical Thinking using PSL2 Teams:

Making a Goose out of a Buffalo [i]

By David M. Boje

February 7, 2001

Today we learn to be Geese and to solve every single organization problem using PSL2

PSL2 stands for PROCESS AND PHASES, SOLVING AND SAVING, LEARNING AND LEADING

Professor Mark Sandberg of Rider College taught me the fundamentals of PSL2 while I was his student in early 1970s.  I went on to write a book chapter in 1977[i] and reprinted it in Readings in Managerial Psychology (Leavitt, Pondy & Boje, 1980). I combine research on problem solving process leadership strategies that seem contingent on situational factors such as available time, hidden conflicts in the flock, and commitment needed (Belasco & Stayer, 1993). I developed the model to train buffalo herds to fly like geese (or camels to be horses). Since then PSL2 has been used by thousands of MBA students who took it into the corporate world. Every so often I run into consultants who built their practice on it.

PSL2 is defined as, critical thinking and creative action in teams that manages both the content and process levels. To think critically means to understand the contingencies, when it is best to use critical thinking to build a few strategic alternatives and when it is best to use creativity and brainstorming. 

PSL2 motto: "Follow the PSL2 team process guidelines and you make a Goose out of a Buffalo."  The team process phases are presented in Table One. First phase, is ID the problem. Groups fail because they skip process phase steps. Untrained groups engage in premature evaluation, before strategic or creative ideas get a chance to fly. And groups jump ahead of themselves, working on solutions before a problem has been ID-ed. The point is to know which process phase your team is working within, and not to allow any goose to be out of phase with the flock.

PSL2 requires setup conditions and assumptions be met to succeed:

  1. People sit in a circle, not a pyramid or a square.

  2. Inside the PSL2 circle, all geese are equal; all are process and phase leaders.

  3. Everyone knows the process.

  4. Everyone knows the group games that will get confronted with love and constructive critique.

  5. Some problems and situations require Buffalo decisions, others can be decided by consensus or voting.

PSL2 Rules

  1. Process and Phases must be known to all and followed by all.

  2. Solving without Saving is a waste of time.

  3. Learn to Lead with all the PSL2 process leader roles.

Train your team to appoint one goose to be the process leader.  This leader gets agreement from the flock on a one-sentence definition of the underlying problem.  Look at Table One and follow the steps to insure the flock is working on a root-cause problem, and not a symptom (See SEAM site for Root Cause Analysis examples).  

PSL2 Problem Solving Phases (See Table One)

  1. Problem ID

  2. Solution Generation

  3. Evaluation

  4. Decision

  5. Implementation

 

PSL2 Table One presents the five problem solving phases, and highlights (in yellow) the seven questions an effective team of Geese must answer to know they are on course.

 

TABLE ONE: 

PSL2 Problem Phases, Solve & Save, & Learn & Lead (adapted Boje, 1980)[i]

 

Phase I - PROBLEM ID - To ID a problem is to explore the problem, first, to write it out in a single sentence, and insure every team member understands the problem. There are eight critical thinking questions to ask. Three first three happen in Phase One, Problem ID. In Problem ID, the first question is asked: 

Phase II - SOLUTION GENERATION - There are three critical thinking questions for flying geese in Phase II. 

Phase III - EVALUATION - There are two steps in the evaluation phase.  You promised to allow the flock to get critical, real, and skeptical. Keep your promise here.

Phase IV - DECISION - Train the flock to be flexible in its flight patterns and use different decision processes for various situation contingencies (consider time, energy, conflict history, coalitions, and risk).

Phase V - IMPLEMENTATION - Implementation planning involves the flock in developing an action plan for the chosen alternative.  Responsibilities get assigned to group members, schedules are made, and resources to get the job done are inventoried and requested.  In short, don't leave the meeting with out an action plan and a list of which goose is going to do what when. 

PSL2 Process Leader Roles

  1. Supportive - Keep discussion free and open; Sit back or take role of goose in the team

  2. Directive - Control and focus the content discussion; Be the lead goose for content.  If you are vested in the content, you may want to let some other goose lead the process.

  3. Recorder - Until you know what you are doing, do not delegate this role. The recorder is the one who is controlling the process on the flip chart, but this is no secretarial role.  Every PSL2 team process has a recorder; someone who writes out the problem statement on flip chart, lists each and every idea (Saving Ideas is important), lists any pros and cons, lists all solutions, and list implementation action plans and notes who will do what when. 

  4. Game Playing Conflict and Confrontation - This is every goose's role in the team, but the lead goose, the one with the pen in hand, ends up doing much of the confronting, especially in untrained flocks.

Leading the problem solving phases, and knowing what phase your flock is in, is only part of the leadership task. The other issue is confronting games that groups and individuals act out in the flock meetings.  Eric Berne defines a game as "an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome" (p. 48). As a transaction leader, a group process leader (or facilitator) needs to be able to confront recurring games. Flocks get into scripts, like repeated scenes in a movie.  The same scene gets acted out over and over, until the game gets confronted, and the issue resolved.  Process leaders manage the content, problem solving phases, and the conflict management levels.  It helps when all the geese are trained and know how to spot the games.  Table Two lists games and what to do about them in the phase the seem to happen most often. 

TABLE TWO: Games Flocks Play and What to Do

PHASE GAME WHAT TO DO
I. PROBLEM ID GAMES Hidden Agenda

Why don't we do it my way?

Ain't it awful?

All flock members can confront these games.

A hidden agenda or self-authorized (do it my way) agenda needs direct confrontation. Ask goose if they are trying to get at something else?; Ask someone selling their idea to wait till evaluation phase.

For Ain't it awful, acknowledge the negative aspects of the situation, then focus on what can be done. 

II. SOLUTION GAMES Hard Sell

Lend me your ear

Why don't you, yes but

All talk and no listening

Have we been here before?

A hard sell or lend me your ear lecture will stifle the flock. Tell them selling can wait till evaluation phase. A direct confrontation is to summarize the lecture in six words, write it on the pad, and if the person keeps lecturing, get the flock's agreement that your paraphrase has capture the point. 

A why don't you, yes but game. Flocks stuck in their ways, use this game to stall, delay and prevent the process from unfolding. A gentle confrontation is "can we save this to the evaluation phase."

All talk is a common game. Try the talking stick. Everyone can speak, but only one a time, when they hold the talking stick.

Have we been here before - this is why you are leading the flock, to keep them from flying over the same ground. Record comments on a flip chart and let flock know what phase they are in. 

III. EVALUATION GAMES Love me, love my dog

Groupthink

 

Love me, love my dog is a game where ego gets tangled with the idea. Tell them about poker; once money in the pot, it belongs to the house.

Groupthink is a word invented by Irving Janis to indicate when an in-group does not engage in realistic appraisal of options, and worse when everyone hates the options but is not saying anything. Devil's advocate role playing is needed.

IV. DECISION GAMES Let's get this over with

We all agree, right?

Rushing a group process because of personal agenda or railroading a decision will just blow up in the next phase. Try to slow the flock down. 
V. IMPLEMENTATION GAMES Avoid the monkey

Building lead balloons

Ever left the room after a meeting after a decision, then nothing happened.  Avoid the monkey and lead balloons are two games to confront.  Nothing beats action plans and responsibility charts for these games. 

Confronting Games - Game analysis is a useful way to spot dysfunctional people and group process behaviors. It takes a combination of directive and supportive styles in the group to confront more severe games.  Confronting with patience is a skill that takes lots of practice.  It also takes training to know when you can confront. Timing is everything. When you confront a game before the flock is aware a goose is playing a game, then you risk being seen as the villain who is being insensitive to the game-playing goose. Confronting too autocratically or too soon, will divide the flock and your leader role is over.  There are more severe games than the ones listed in Table Two. Let's you and him fight, and Now I've got you you SOB. may take some time outs with one on one sessions. Please note, that games in Table Two can happen in any phase, but are predicted to pop up, as they are listed. 

Summary

  1. Appoint one goose to be process leader and flip chart recorder (two do this if you want).

  2. Explain the problem solving phases and what you expect in each phase for the flock.

  3. Develop a one-sentence statement of the root-cause problem (SEAM site).  

  4. Answer all eight questions during their process phase.

    1. PROBLEM ID: Is problem appropriate for flock to decide? 

    2. PROBLEM ID: Is the problem (as written) a problem or a symptom?

    3. PROBLEM ID: Can problem be decomposed?

    4. SOLUTION GENERATION: Is creativity or accuracy more relevant?

    5. SOLUTION GENERATION: Should flock work together or as individuals?

    6. SOLUTION GENERATION: Is directive or supportive process leadership needed?

    7. DECISION: Which decision option fits the situation?

    8. EVALUATION: Will it fly?

  5. Transcribe the flip charts so you have a written problem statement, list of options (pros and cons), decision used, and implementation action plan.

 

References

Belasco, James A. & Stayer, Ralph C. (1993) Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to excellence, learning to let employees lead. NY: Warner Books, Inc.

Berne, E. (1964) Games People Play. NY: Grove Press.

Boje, D. M. (1980) "Making a Horse Out of a Camel: A Contingency Model for Managing the Problem Solving Process in Groups." In H. Leavitt, L. Pondy & D. Boje (Eds), Readings in Managerial Psychology. IL: University of Chicago Press, 445-470.

Boje, D. M. (1977) "Making a horse out of a camel." In Boje, Brass & Pondy (Eds) (1977) Managing II, Chapter 8, pp. 220-241,2nd Edition.

 

ENDNOTES:


[i] Adapted from Boje, D. M. (1980) "Making a Horse Out of a Camel: A Contingency Model for Managing the Problem Solving Process in Groups." In H. Leavitt, L. Pondy & D. Boje (Eds), Readings in Managerial Psychology. IL: University of Chicago Press, 445-470. Reprinted from (1977) Boje, Brass & Pondy (Eds) Managing II, Chapter 8, pp. 220-241,2nd Edition. Now renamed “Making A Goose Out of a Buffalo.”


[ii] BRAINSTORMING RULES

1. Criticism is ruled out. Adverse judgment of ideas must be withheld until later (Later here refers to the evaluation phase – Confront any evaluative, skeptical, negativity in brainstorming phase).

  2. “Freewheeling” is welcomed. The wilder the idea, the better; it is easier to tame down than to think up.

  3. Quantity is wanted. The greater the number of ideas, the greater likelihood of winning solutions.

  4. Combination and improvement sought. In addition to contributing ideas of their own, geese should suggest how ideas of other geese can be turned into better ideas, or how two or more ideas (on list) can be joined into still another idea.


[iii] Moment By Moment Virtual Reality Prediction Test – This is part of Grace Ann Rosile’s “creative problem solving” advice; Story the implementation with a scenario.  Imagine each implementation action plan step and who is doing what. It is a virtual space where you simulate and predict the situation, contingencies, and outcomes.