Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education and International Services

First Advisor

Shirley Freed

Second Advisor

Delyse Steyn

Third Advisor

Duane Covrig


Problem and Purpose

In order to meet the growing needs for efficiency in the workplace, industry is turning to group-work and collaboration. Successful teams are in demand because they not only meet the efficiency needs, but also provide the kind of bonding that creates convergence in the members. The chemistry or recipe for this kind of success is difficult to pinpoint, however, and several aspects of group communication and skills, need to be re-examined using communication theory. The purpose of this study is to describe one of those aspects—group creative problem-solving—in order to see how the communication used in that process affects the group dynamic.


The research was a qualitative design based on a multiple or comparative case study. A theoretical/conceptual framework using Symbolic Convergence Theory and CAVE (Combine, Analogue, Visualize, Elaborate), an acronym that provides a way to describe in communication terms the creative problem-solving process, was applied to groups that were formed specifically to do competitive creative problem-solving. Fantasy Theme Analysis (FTA) is the method used to identify Symbolic Convergence Theory, and observation surveys were designed to note the occurrence of Fantasy Chains, Fantasy Themes, and Fantasy Types. The observation surveys also were designed to follow CAVE as it occurred. Three university-level Destination Imagination teams were observed as they prepared over a period of 3 months for Global Finals Creative Problem-solving Competition. Data were collected through video recordings, field notes, artifacts, and interviews. The teams were made up of five to seven members, and each, additionally, had a Team Manager. Using observation surveys, the teams’ communication patterns were noted and evaluated. The results were documented in case studies that were reported first individually, and then cross-case analysis was performed.


Symbolic communication, described as Fantasy Chaining, Fantasy Theming, and Fantasy Types, was found to induce the creative process (CAVE), and the two occurred simultaneously. In addition to being interactive, a crucial piece of the symbolic conversion for the group was a crucial piece of the group creative problem-solving process. The use of analogue in both processes linked the two, and was seen as the element that tied the two processes together in these cases. Two of the cases gave clear evidence of how this works when both symbolic communication and creative process are present. The third case showed the results of a lack of use of symbolic communication, and its impact on the creative process. When symbolic communication processes occurred, bonding also occurred, which produced the skills that have been noted as being critical for synergy to happen in a group. When those symbolic communication processes were absent, as in the third case study, no bonding or synergy occurred.


Fantasy Chaining sparks CAVE, and works with it to fuel the creative process. The kind of communication uncovered with FTA is the same communication used in CAVE, and should be included in creative problem-solving models. The use of symbolic communication processes provides the climate for group bonding. Therefore, the type of communication in use is also seen as the way group creative problem-solving can aid the cohesion and synergy of the team, and thus the convergence of the team. And because all groups inherently problem-solve, group communication models need to recognize how group creative problem-solving communication affects the group dynamic. Skills that accompany this kind of communication are the skills that have been identified as necessary for cohesion and synergy to occur. Additionally, while the symbolic communication processes drove the creative process, the reverse was also true. So it was apparent that Symbolic Conversion and CAVE exist in a symbiotic relationship, which is needed for a group to truly converge.

Subject Area

Group problem solving; Communication in small groups; Communication in organizations


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