Introduction Before I ventured into the Schulich MBA program I worked for a number of organizations in team settings where diversity in personnel was not one of their strengths. After spending some time at Schulich I realize the inherent power and advantages that diversity can bring to a team if leveraged properly. But the path from forming, nor ming, storming to performing can be a minefield filled with unforeseen roadblocks (Friedman, 2005). Some teams develop strong dynamics right away where the personalities of each individual gel together seamlessly while other teams are characterized by constant infighting, disagreements and lack of results. In my brief tenure at Schulich I have experienced both the "highs" of a well performing team and the "lows" of a non-performing team. My team in the information technology course was diverse in every way possible.
We each came from different cultural backgrounds and where characterized by different cultural values, where educated in different academic specialties and gained experience working in different professional settings. The result of our team project was a reflection of everything we did as a team and as individuals working in a team setting. We were dedicated to this project and put forth the necessary effort to excel and do the best we can. Each team member remained committed to the team until the end of the project regardless of what the outcome was. By now you probably have the impression I'm describing my "performing" team. In fact, these were the characteristics of a "non-performing" team slowed by infighting and conflicts.
Despite the precarious nature of our situation none of us quit the team and we continued to grow as individuals and as a team. Rarely does this every happen. Majority of the time, frustration ensues and a drop in moral happens, creating a "vicious cycle" where eventually the team falls apart and the project is incomplete (Morgan 4, 2005). Why was our team so different in the end outcome? The difference was how we as a team redefined success and the initiatives we took as a team to make success possible. I will focus on my contribution to redefining success by changing the mentality of success as defined by an "A+" to "enjoy learning and develop respect for each others values and ideas despite the final outcome".
Original Frame In a classical context success in academia is defined by "A+". This was also how we defined success in our team contract. Judging from the roadblocks we experienced as a team early on in the process and the preliminary feedback we received from the instructor we weren't going to achieve a "B" let alone an "A+" at the end. This caused high levels of stress and frustration amongst team members and created a negative environment leading to more conflicts that created higher levels of stress and frustration. It came to a point where we began to fall apart and considered giving up altogether. We had to change the situation or risk failing the course.
Reframing the Issue In any team work setting, progression is usually characterized by agreed upon ideas put to work in a tangible format. After 75% of the way through the timeline given for the project we neither had any ideas that were agreed upon nor did we have anything tangible to show for the efforts given and time spent. We as a team were unable to leverage the diversity in the group. Though we generated great ideas as a team we were never able to come to a consensus on any issue as a result of our different thinking processes. We were caught in a vicious loop. The crest of this problem presented our team with an opportunity to find a new way of going about this project and at this point I decided to challenge the status quo and confronted my team members on the situation.
I asked each team member for feedback on the crisis we " re experiencing and what we can do to "fix" the situation. We scheduled a team meeting and in the ensuing meeting we applied the 5-Whys technique of re framing to dig deeper into our crisis by drilling down to the root cause (s) (Morgan 1, 2005). We all agreed the issue was the low preliminary mark achieved and the ensuing conflicts that occurred as a result. So we posed the question, why did we achieve a low mark?
The team response was "we didn't use our time effectively and efficiently". We then asked, why didn't we use our time effectively and efficiently? The response was "we did not communicate effectively with each other". This led us to our third why, why were we not communicating effectively?
To which our aggregate response was, "we were so focused on the end goal that we disregarded each others ideas and learned nothing from each other in the process" which finally led us to ask, why were we disregarding each others ideas? In which our final response was "we were getting frustrated and angry at not feeling any respect for the views each one of us proposed and thus disregarded any ideas brought up by everyone else, we weren't learning from each other it wasn't an enjoyable process". In essence the end justified the means, and in the process we threw out any and all communication norms set in place to arrive at our goal. As a result of this session we achieved a number of goals and created a base for further development. Each individual in the team from that point on felt more confident in expressing his / her views on the project and was more comfortable in bringing up and discussing any team conflict / issues. As a result each individual was more "in tune" with the team and felt more valued by the team.
We changed our focus from a team aiming for an "A+" to one where a collaborative effort is given to develop a vital understanding of each others strengths and weaknesses and in the process develop trust in each other and respect for each others values and ideas. We moved from a team driven by external academic benchmarks to one driven by internal communication benchmarks. The 15% Leverage According to Gareth Morgan, "you only have 15-percent influence over your situation, it is vitally important to know exactly where that influence lies, and how it can be exercised". (Morgan 3, 2005). As I team member I can not control the external outcome of our report, nor can I control the values or ideas of each individual and hence predict conflicts and arguments that may ensue. In the position of team member and residing chairperson, I can leverage my ability to mediate discussions and use instances of "conflict" as an opportunity for team development by creating communication benchmarks and best practices (Morgan 2, 2005).
I had control over how discussions are structured to involve everyone and to have everyone's ideas heard and analyzed as well as how conflict is resolved and can be used as a leverage point for growth. We established that to communicate effectively and to manage conflict innovative ly we use a combination of communication best practices from each team members' team contract in MGMT 5150. We developed a system of communication centered around a "round table" format where whomever holds the "baton" has the right to be heard without interruption and established a penalty for interruption if it occurred. Conflict was handled innovative ly using a role playing approach where we invite those in conflict to "participate in playful, paradox-focused brain-storming, creating a mind map of 'impossible' win-win solutions" (Shelton, C.D. & Darling, J. R, 2004). Not only does this put a positive, energized spin on the situation it permits the conflicting parties to see the situation from each other's perspective and strengthens the respect we have for each others ideas. Conclusion In the end our team never achieved the "A+" but we built team cohesiveness and developed mutual understanding and respect for each other as a result of our new process.
Regardless of the grade we achieved we came away with a sense of accomplishment, were satisfied with the effort put in, and in the process have developed a strong understanding and respect for each other. Though the re framing techniques and the ensuing action items used in this situation was successful, it may not be applicable to a future team setting. New teams come with new challenges and problems. The one constant is me and the skill set I've developed as a result of my experiences and with which I can use to drill down and identify the underlying issue and leverage my ability to influence the 15% of the situation that can be controlled.
Friedman, Stephen. "Phases of Group Development". From lecture slides given on February 7, 2005.
Morgan 1, Gareth. "5-whys". From lecture slides given on January 24, 2005.
Morgan 2, Gareth. "Create stretch-benchmarks". web Gareth. "The 15% Approach". From lecture slides given on January 31, 2005.
Morgan 4, Gareth. "Vicious Loops". web Shelton, C.D. & Darling, J.R. (2004).