José has been appointed chair of a steering task force to design the primary product line for a new joint venture between companies from Japan, the United States, and South America. The new joint venture company will make, sell, and service pet caskets (coffins) for the burial of beloved pets, mostly dogs and cats. One month earlier, each company had assigned personnel to the task force: From the Japanese company, Furuay Masahiko from Yokohama, assistant to the president of the Japanese company; Hamada Isao from Tokyo, director of marketing from its technology group; and Noto Takeshi from Tokyo, assistant director of its financial management department. From the United States company, Thomas Boone from Chicago, the top purchasing manager from its lumber and forest lands group; Richard Maret from Buffalo, the codirector of the company’s information systems group; and Billy Bob “Tex” Johnson from Arizona, the former CEO, now retired and a consultant for the company. From the South American company, Mariana Preus from Argentina, the head of product design for that company’s specialty animal products group; Hector Bonilla from their Mexico City division, an expert in automated systems design for wood products; and Mauricio Gomes, in charge of design and construction for the plant, which will be located in southern Chile to take advantage of the vast forest there.
These members were chosen for their expertise in various areas and were taking valuable time away from their normal assignments to participate in the joint venture.
As chair of the task force, José had scheduled an initial meeting for 10:00 A.M. José started the meeting by reviewing the history of the development of the joint venture and how the three company presidents had decided to create it. Then, José reviewed the market for the new high-end, designer pet coffins, stressing that this task force was to develop the initial design parameters for the new product to meet increasing demand around the world. He then opened the meeting for comments and suggestions.
Mariana Preus spoke first: “In my opinion, the current designs that we have in production in our Argentina plant are just fine. They are topnotch designs, using the latest technology for processing. They use the best woods available and they should sell great. I don’t see why we have to design a whole new product line.” Noto Takeshi agreed and urged the committee to recommend that the current designs were good enough and should be immediately incorporated into the plans for the new manufacturing plant. José interrupted the discussion: “Look, the council of presidents put this joint venture together to completely revolutionize the product and its manufacture based on solid evidence and industry data. We are to redesign the product and its manufacturing systems. That is our job, so let’s get started.” José knew that the presidents had considered using existing designs but had rejected the idea because the designs were too old and not easily manufacturable at costs low enough to make a significant impact on the market. He told the group this and reminded them that the purpose of the committee was to design a new product.
The members then began discussing possible new design elements, but the discussion always returned to the benefits of using the existing designs. Finally, Tex spoke up: “I think we ought to do what Mariana suggested earlier. It makes no sense to me to design new caskets when the existing designs are good enough to do the job.” The others nodded their heads in agreement. José again reminded them of the task force’s purpose and said such a recommendation would not be well received by the council of presidents. Nevertheless, the group insisted that José write a memo to the council of presidents with the recommendation to use existing designs and to begin immediately to design the plant and the manufacturing system. The meeting adjourned and the members headed to the golf course at 10:45 A.M.
José returned to his computer and started to write the memo, but he knew it would anger the presidents. He hoped he would not be held responsible for the actions of the task force, even though he was its chair. He wondered what had gone wrong and what he could have done to prevent it.
Which characteristics of group behavior discussed in the chapter can you
identify in this case?
How did the diverse nature of the group affect the committee’s actions?
If you were in Jose’s position, what would you have done differently? What would you do now?