Group Discussion Case Study

Quite often, for group discussions, a caselet is given on which the candidates have to form their opinions and discuss it out. Different people may have different solutions and viewpoints. This requires a different approach, since a group discussion is on a particular topic while a case is situational. Based on this, a student can learn the methodology to tackle case studies.

CASE: You are the manager of a nationalised bank in a busy area. The branch has done very good business in the past but is now facing competition from private banks. One day, an influential customer comes to get a demand draft made but finds that the cashier is not on his seat. He waits for 10 minutes after which he approaches you. You find the cashier and direct him to attend to the customer. The cashier tells the customer that he would have to wait another 10 minutes as he is doing an important piece of work. At this, the customer loses his patience and there is an altercation between the customer and the cashier. Angry, the customer walks into your office and threatens to take his business elsewhere. You pacify him.

Considering the fact that bank unions are very strong and would immediately call for strike if you took any action against the cashier, what would you do in the given situation?

Candidate I: This is a common situation faced by bank customers. Nationalised banks have traditionally given poor service and employees have behaved irresponsibly towards their customers. That is the reason that they are losing customers after private banks have come in. I feel that the cashier should not go unpunished. As bank manager, I would like to be strong and suspend the cashier, since he has led to an important customer withdrawing his business. It is true that I would have to face the wrath of the unions but in the long term interest of the bank, it is better to face the unions once than to live in fear of them. My action would also send a message to other employees and set an example. This is the only way that our branch can face up to the competition. We have to provide good service. By going on strike, we may lose business for a few days but in the long run, the bank would work more efficiently. It is time we faced inefficient employees once and for all, rather than live in dread of them. After all, the prime objective of the bank is customer service and increasing business. If we cannot do that, do we have a reason to exist?

Candidate II: I would like to motivate the cashier and explain to him how his action has affected the bank and one of our best customers. If he really withdraws business from the bank, would it be beneficial to us? I think the problem lies in motivation. If bank employees feel responsible for their job and realise the importance of the work they are doing, they will want to contribute to the branch. The solution thus lies in motivation and guidance. I would try to find out what work the cashier was doing at the time the customer came. Maybe he was doing something which was not part of his duties, or maybe he needs some assistance, which I will provide to him. I am sure he will appreciate my concern and improve in the future.

Candidate III: Before knowing the facts of the case, how can I take action? I would constitute an inquiry committee to find out the facts. If the cashier was found to be doing something which he shouldn’t have been doing,. I would recommend his immediate transfer or sacking. I would not take an arbitrary decision like throwing him out or even try to motivate him, since bank employees do not respond to such things. When I have the inquiry committee report with me, I can decide about suitable action to be taken. Maybe the cashier needs assistance or maybe he was at fault. In this way, I would avoid a strike but send a message to other employees too that I was serious about my job. An arbitrary decision would hurt my credibility and also expose me to risk of union activity. Under the circumstances, an inquiry would buy me time as also serve the purpose. It would also be safe, as my subsequent action would not be criticised, since I was going by the committee recommendations.

Candidate IV: I find that there is nothing much I can do in this situation. Bank managers have few powers over their employees and can neither motivate them nor throw them out. We also have to realise that managers are not responsible for the business of their banks. They have only temporary tenure and promotions are based on length of service. I would thus try to ensure that everything is peaceful during my tenure and no major disruptions take place. My transfer may be due in a few years anyway, so why should I rock the boat? By appointing committees or taking action, I would be unnecessarily spoiling my relations with colleagues and it would also spoil my reputation in the bank. So I would do nothing. I would try to pacify the customer, but if he wants to take the business elsewhere, let him. I would also pacify the cashier but would not take action against him. Wisdom lies in maintaining the status quo, not in rocking the boat. The case says that the bank is nationalised, so that is important. We are not in the private sector where we are responsible. We have to fulfill social responsibility. Employees are important. Moreover, you cannot change the system. So my advice is: do nothing. Just sit tight and wait for your transfer. Maybe it will be to a better place.

Analysis:
We now have different viewpoints, each quite different from the others. The first is to take drastic action, the second to motivate the errant employee, the third to appoint a committee and the fourth, to do nothing. Each has its advantages, as explained. Clearly, there is no one answer or the best solution. But when one makes any recommendation, one must see what impact it will make on the selection panel.

The first response would show that the manager is tough and ruthless, brave and daring. However, it would also show that he does not care about human relations. The second shows that the manager is too concerned with human qualities. He wants to motivate the employee, but that is a long process. The message he would send that he is too soft and does not care about the efficiency in the bank. The third response is to buy time by appointing an enquiry committee. This would make practical sense, though it would show that the manager is indecisive. The last response is perhaps the most practical: given such situations a real bank manager will probably ignore the whole episode. Each response, thus, has its positive points but would send a negative signal too. What would be the best response in this case?

Best response:
It must be understood that any case is a situation and a candidate is not required to show his business acumen or insight. What is required is that the candidate shows some leadership skills and is able to articulate his ideas. We give below a method which would be the best response in doing any case discussion.

The idea is that the candidate must keep the initiative and is able to interject at several points in the discussion. Do not give your viewpoint, no matter how wise you think it is. When you advise a particular piece of action, you immediately paint yourself in a corner from where you have to defend your thoughts without the possibility of shifting your stand later on. There is no point getting into an argument. The best way would be to assume a leadership position and, without committing any course of action, to guide the group. Help it arrive at a consensus. Agree or disagree to others’ viewpoints. After sufficient arguments have been made, take your stand and agree with the group. Your role should be of a facilitator.

Here are the steps you can follow to achieve the above:

Describe the problem.
Ask for different viewpoints.
Identify possible solutions.
Discuss pros and cons of each alternative.
Select the best alternative and agree with it.
Conclude.

By following this strategy, you can make a contribution to any case, even if you do not know anything about it. Start by paraphrasing the case and put in your words, explaining it to others. Stick to the facts mentioned in the case. Having made your introduction, ask for the opinion of others. Do not criticise anybody but help analyse the alternatives. Bring in advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. Having thrashed out all suggestions, help the group select the best one. Agree with the group consensus and conclude, bringing in all the points that were brought up in the case.

You can show your leadership abilities through this strategy. The selection committee would no doubt be impressed by your contribution as also the fact that you are able to guide the group. This would thus be the winning strategy to succeed in any case discussion.

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Group Discussion (GD) Tips

The GD is an indicator of the confidence of a person as well as his ability to work in a group. Students are seated in a semicircle. A topic is given and after about a minute or so, the group is asked to proceed. Most discussions last for 10-12 minutes and the group size maybe anything up to 15 people. Some institutes are known to have about students in a group, which makes the task of contributing meaningfully all the more difficult. Almost all students will be anxious to make a mark and sometimes there may be pandemonium. Often, aggressive and loud-mouthed individuals may corner the discussion. One should have a strategy for dealing with such situations too.

There are no fixed rules for a GD. There is usually a scramble to be the first one to speak. The first speaker should mention the topic and make a preface by stating the issues. He should not commit himself but only speak the introduction. Later, one may make some interjections and make one’s stand clear. The group should move towards a consensus but so great is the tension to make one’s point that this may not happen at all. The idea is to exhibit some leadership qualities in steering the group while making one’s contribution.

If the group is too noisy, the facilitator may allot one minute to each candidate to sum up the discussion. This is an opportunity to put on one’s best effort. Without criticising the group, one can sum up and give one’s own views.

How is one rated in a GD? Firstly, a candidate is evaluated on how he speaks. Fluency plays a role here. But this is not enough: what matters is also whether any meaningful contribution was made by the person. Thirdly, a candidate will score if he shows leadership qualities, that is, of guiding the group towards a consensus. It is clear that one should have read a lot if he is to exhibit any depth of knowledge. If you have kept up with the newspapers and magazines, it will certainly be of help. Read carefully the debates and argumentative questions and chances are that you will get one of these topics for discussion. Read also items of economic importance and learn the figures of growth rates, GDP, deficits and so on.

How to contribute in a GD There are always two ways to look at any topic: for or against. Take the example of economic liberalisation. It can be argued that it was a very good thing since a number of foreign companies came into the country, bringing technology and efficiency. Employment and growth rate improved. The people could buy all the world class products which earlier had to be smuggled.

On the other hand, it can also be argued that all kinds of non-essential goods came into the country, like hamburgers, fried chicken and soda water. The infrastructure remained poor. There was no fresh growth as the MNCs simply bought the Indian companies. The technology they imported was outdated and most of the goods were so expensive that most people could not buy them. Liberalisation was trumpeted to be a good thing since politicians were using it to rake in personal wealth.

Whatever personal views one may have, it is important to know both sides of the argument. If the discussion is heading towards a particular direction, a candidate can take a totally opposite view and consequently will become the centre of the discussion. Of course one must be able to defend one’s viewpoints and therefore the need to have read widely. In the case of liberalisation, many people will defend it, since that is the viewpoint most often published in newspapers. If a student can bring in an opposing viewpoint and mention some convincing reasons, there is no reason why he will not be selected.

The trouble is that most students have not faced anything like the GD before. How is one to speak in a group of 15 strangers in a language we do not usually speak? One way is to read about a topic and then debate with parents, uncles or elder cousins. Tell them to ask you questions and try to trap you. The more you do this, the more clear will your own thoughts become. Of course practice in a larger group can be obtained only by joining a professional institute.

Another way to practice is to tape your speech. Try to speak about a topic for one full minute into the tape recorder. When you listen to the tape, you will be able to spot your mistakes, the points on which you falter and the words which you cannot easily speak. You will also be able to know whether you make any sense or not. Ask your friends to listen to the tape critically. Often, people can discover their weaknesses and speech impairments by this method.

You can also use mirror therapy. Stand before a mirror and speak extempore on any topic. Practice sounding assertive and firm. If you think your voice is soft or shrill, especially for girls, speak loudly in front of the mirror as if you are speaking to a stranger. Have a conversation with yourself. The mirror will tell you whether you have a habit of looking away while speaking. It will tell you about your body language also. These will be invaluable insights for participating in groups. You must look at all the members when addressing them. Looking away will cause you to lose your chance and the other person will carry on without letting you complete.

The mirror will also stop you from fidgeting, as many people are prone to do when they are speaking or are nervous. The therapy will be greatly enhanced if you can get your family members or friedns to practice with you.
Interjections

Take care also that you do not stray from the topic. One way to avoid this is to write it down and keep it in front of you. By periodically looking at it, you can arrange your thoughts mentally. Remember that the interjections should always be in the form of a paragraph, not a question. Do not get into cross talk with any person in the group. Do not start quarreling if someone is against your stand. Instead, address the group.

In any GD, a common situation is that everybody wants to speak all at once and some individuals will dominate on account of their loudness. After all, everybody wants to make a mark in the limited time and it is survival of the fittest. Making an interjection at this stage is rather difficult.

Start off with meta-language: “I agree with you, but…” or “We have heard many viewpoints and I would like to say….” Do not lose your cool if nobody listens. It might pay to raise your voice for the opening sentence and then go ahead to make your point. Never criticise. If you do not agree with a particular viewpoint, start with: “You may be right, but I feel….” or even “I agree with you on certain points but there is a contrary opinion that….” Be polite but firm.

A common situation is that whatever points you have thought of have already been said by someone else. Do not become nervous should this happen. Instead, quickly assess the situation and the direction of the discussion. Take a few deep breaths and think whether anything has been missed out or whether you can turn the discussion around. Usually, there is always some uncovered ground and a person can steer the discussion in a new direction. “We have been discussing the positive side of the matter”, you can say. But there is a more serious dimension that we have ignored….” Chances are that you will become the centre of discussion after this. Even if you have not spoken during the first half of the session, you will have turned it around to your advantage.

Assume a leadership role if you do not have much to say. Give a chance to others who have not spoken. Guide the discussion by restoring order. Keep an eye on the time and after 10 minutes or so, begin summing up. This will show your leadership qualities. However, if you do not contribute in any other way, this strategy will not be sufficient to see you through.

Interjections should be made without being rude. Do not cut into mid-sentence. On the other hand, if someone cuts into your speech, politely ask to be heard: “I would like to complete what I was saying….” rather than rudely asking a person to shut up. Sometimes all these rules do not work, especially if the group is a rowdy one. Since it is survival of the fittest, do not be cowed down and make a bold effort to make yourself heard.

Why group discussions?

Most jobs and management schools do not want bookworms, but people who are outgoing and smart as well. Group discussions help check whether a person can articulate his thoughts and hold his ground.

What is observed?
* Leadership skills
* Confidence
* Consideration for others
* Manners
* Aggressive behaviour
* Substantial viewpoints vs frivolous viewpoints

Some common topics for Group Discussions

Reservation for women is desirable
The impact of India’s nuclear tests
Advancement in science would lead to destruction
Who is responsible for ills of our country: politicians or bureaucrats?
Should there be a Presidential form of government?
Management is an art or science?
Are small States preferable to large States?
Is our culture under threat from cable television?
Environment vs development: which is preferable?
The role of multinationals in the economy

How to prepare?
* Form an informal group and discuss serious issues
* Discuss current affairs with parents or elders
* Watch news and current affairs programmes
* Read some good magazines. Read all the discussions featured in The Competition Master in the past months
* Always think of points in favour and against the topic

 

Some important tips
* Always be polite
* Never criticise
* Give others a chance to speak
* Make sure you intervene 4-5 times in the discussion
* Be coherent, make your point and let others discuss
* Do not be aggressive or loud
* Play the leader