Problem and Context
The activity started off smoothly and without much conflict. I was happy to be working with my new team members and did not feel much nervousness as I’m generally an outgoing person and find leadership positions to accommodate my personality well. According to the Belbin Team Roles (Belbin, 1981), I was found to most closely fit the role of a coordinator, which meant that I would find it easy to have attention and respect as well as get others to calmly work with each other. Luckily, by and large the rest of my team was also very cooperative and seemed both focused and interested in the task at hand rather than creating disruption or appearing to be disinterested and disintegrated. The team initially got along quite well and found it easy to communicate with each other, whether it was conveying ideas or registering problems that they wished to be solved. Unfortunately however problems quickly arose as we found each other to have naturally contradicting opinions and a lack of understanding on how to work around them. These problems in particular arose mainly out of clashing opinions of two dominant members of the group but the rest of the team generally mitigated the conflict well through their calmer approach. Overall I personally thoroughly enjoyed the group project and found it a welcome activity to be able to demonstrate and practice my leadership abilities, as well as learn how to be a follower-oriented leader (Bjustad, 2006). I owe this luckily to partially my naturally extroverted personality, which makes it easy for me to convey my thoughts and take control of a situation, and partially to my fellow team members who did not fight over petty issues, save but a few occasions, and who eventually learnt how to accommodate each others’ personalities and to solve conflict quite well, without lingering over it once resolved.
I was initially not the leader of my team. My team decided that the fairest way to choose a leader was not through voting, as we did not clearly know who possessed the best qualities to undertake that role; rather it would be fair to write names and draw out a ballot. That way, if the leader failed to live up to his position, he may be changed later, with the full knowledge that he was given his chance. In retrospect this process proved to be an inefficient one as rather than choose a member who himself wanted to undertake the role, it was given out randomly, without considering whether there was anyone else better suited for the position. According to Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer (1998) investigating the different personalities of team members and choosing roles accordingly results in greater team efficiency and fewer conflicts.
Nonetheless, not being aware of that at the time, through this process, a fellow male member of the team was elected as leader. Our elected team leader was the only other visibly dominant member of our team, apart from me and one other member, but the former chose to have more of a silent dominance rather than a clearly visible impact. The elected leader made sure his opinion was heard above all others and would argue heavily with any conflicting opinion to it. This did not initially create problems as we appreciated his assertive approach but eventually as the rest of the team members, myself included, started offering our opinions more clearly and with more assertion, this gave rise to unpleasant conflict that refused to be solved through healthy discussion or argumentative debate. Also, although he was a very valuable part of group discussion once started, he generally seemed uninterested in his position as a leader and we would find him showing up to meeting late or would find him unable to take initiative or give out proper instructions, choosing to sit back and allow somebody else to get the discussions started. Therefore, it was decided that through a vote we would choose our next elected leader as this time we knew our personalities better and would be able to make a better decision. I was chosen as the elected leader this time, as the group generally found me to be dominant and controlling but in a way where I was also open to hearing the opinions of those around me and integrate them in a way where it achieved a balance between all. Our former leader was initially not happy with this decision but after explaining how the majority of the team would have to dictate its future and course of action, whether the minority agreed or no, and after explaining that good leadership often demands one to step down rather than step up, he decided to contribute more valuably to the team by allowing somebody else chosen unanimously by the team to be the leader. And indeed once he stepped down as a leader we found him to be a far more active participant in the group’s activities.
As the weeks progressed, the decision to change the leader proved to be quite a good one as I seemed to be the team member all the other members responded to most openly and freely. When we had to do the Lost on the Moon Exercise, the activity started off with a lot of chaos with each member offering his or her opinion and refusing to back down from it, as well as refusing to listen to each other. I first called for calm and then told them rationally that while each believed his opinion to be the most important, he had to take into regard that everybody else in that group also believed the same. Therefore, if we expected to progress with the task, which was a group activity, we would have to learn that we needed to take into regard everybody’s opinion, not just our own solitary individual one. This gave the team members a mental shift and allowed them to communicate with each other and listen even when they felt a conflicting opinion themselves. In this manner, we were able to complete the activity successfully within the allocated time.
Another time in which I was expected to step up as leader was when team members started relaxing and began to stop taking the tasks seriously. We got off to a very good start, which is why eventually, the team started relaxing, taking their easy collaboration for granted and the work non-seriously. I first gave the team a general hearing on the matter, knowing how important it was to occasionally boost the team’s drive and focus (Steers, 2002). Then I focused on the core of the problem. I noticed one member in particular, who also had the slowest progress in general, contributed the most towards slowing down the group, by continuously deviating the group’s discussion off topic, bringing up irrelevant points, taking frequent breaks and overall deteriorating the progressive environment of the group. Recognizing communication to be the main cause of our lack of coordination (Matha & Boehm, 2008) I took the member aside and talked to them about how their casual attitude not only reflected upon them as an individual but they were also slowing down the progress of the rest of the group. I instructed them to reflect on their behaviour and start contributing in a way where they not only improved on their own personal experience of the activities but they also made the situation easier and experience more rewarding for the rest of the team, by not disrupting the atmosphere in a way where we would benefit any less than we otherwise would (Chapman, 2006 & Alimo-Metcalf, Alban-Metcalf, 2008). I found this to be effective in delivering the message through to the individual and once they were clearer on their role in the group and the effect it had on the team, I found them to take their responsibilities far more seriously.
Although I do consider myself to have been a fairly satisfactory and adequate leader who worked in accordance with the three key points expected of a leader (West, 2005), there were some situations in which I found myself to be lacking the leadership required of me. The foremost example of this was when the question initially arose over how to choose a leader, perhaps we shouldn’t have wasted time upon ballots when it was clearly quite evident that I was the only member of the team who was both equipped to be a leader and more importantly had the desire to be it. While there were other members who were more than able to have been good leaders, they displayed hesitance over taking up the leadership role. Furthermore, many of the other members had personal issues, whether individually or towards other members which would have obviously made it difficult for them to have the other members contentedly cooperate and contribute. Therefore, had I initially stepped up as the leader, or had we asked the other members whether any of them wished to be the leader, we would have avoided the slowed down progress that resulted as a result of our former leader and his laid back attitude, as he had never desired to be the leader in the first place. Good leadership is not only taking the roles that are given to you in control, but also stepping up to take control if and when the situation demands it. Had I kept that in mind perhaps our team wouldn’t have had to face the disturbances that it initially did.
Also, even though by the end of the 12 weeks, we had reached a point where we could complete tasks efficiently and discussions in a manner where we would all point our opinion successfully across, we had to suffer a great many setbacks before we could get to that point, mainly in the form of time wasted on conflict and conflict resolution. These likely occurred from a lack of trust and understand about each other (Lencioni, 2005) and had these issues been addressed right from the start, we would have had far better progress.
Alternative courses of Action
Perhaps our team would have faced less conflict if I had been a stricter leader who did not allow interpersonal communication other than relevant to the task at hand. This would have led to the environment being a more professional one rather than a friendly one and in the long run would have avoided a lot of conflict, as many of the team members ended up having personal conflicts which had to be resolved before group activities could proceed further.
Furthermore, if I could repeat and restart the entire process, I would have offered to become the leader from the first week. Knowing my team quite well now, I strongly believe that they would have appreciated such a gesture and would not have had problems with it. And we could have always resorted to the ballot method afterwards, if needed, rather than wasting two weeks on a leader who did not even desire to be a leader as such.
Finally, I would have given more group feedback rather than individually as team members consider themselves more accountable for their actions and participation when they are actively reminded that they are in a group where each member’s actions affects another member (O’Connor & McDermott, 2004).
I found the various individual activities over the course of the weeks and the course as a whole to be a highly enriching and valuable experience. I learnt a great many number of things from the course as I otherwise, without practical experience, perhaps might not have. To learn through the (something) what sort of a leader I am is one thing, but to be able to apply it in practical terms and properly understand the meaning of it is another. Furthermore, having to deal with the unpredictable practical aspects of a team are far different than text based resolution. People are far more complicated than a text based problem might be and solving something in theory and hypothetically is far more different than actually solving it, as I learnt.
I also learnt the skills that will eventually help me not only be a better leader but will also allow me to be a better follower as I would know what a team leader expects from their team. As a leader I learnt that any conflict can be solved through discussion and understanding and that no team member wishes to create trouble for the sake of trouble. If one takes the time to discuss a problem or offer feedback and encouragement through constructive criticism, it is highly unlikely that a problem remains unresolved.
Similarly, I learnt that it is better to listen than to talk because more important than someone’s actions are their intentions behind those actions (Singh, 2007), and the reasons behind those intentions. Tracing the root cause of a problem will always provide a far better solution and far faster as well.
Finally, I got a great deal of confidence in myself as a leader. Perhaps the reason I initially did not volunteer to lead the team, even though I knew I would do a satisfactory job, was that I was afraid of taking an initiative and I was afraid of the possible reaction of my team mates. It is quite possible that in great part I was also hesitant about my own ability to take control and was afraid of letting my team down. I now have greater confidence in myself as I feel that I should trust myself and rely on the experiences I have learnt from throughout this process.
In conclusion, I feel that the entire course was highly beneficial in terms of personal experience as well as practical evaluation. Our team had a harder time than many other teams and we had to deal with conflict often and in many stages, but I do not regret that as ultimately this was a test environment, designed for our learning. Practical situations in real life are often far more complex and more difficult to deal with (Northouse, 2010). Therefore, through this test environment which modelled real life behaviour and action, we were able to learn the best course of action to take in such situations, should the need ever arise. Other teams that were lucky enough to get team members that got along well might have had an easier time at the tasks but eventually one does not know who the members of their team might be, and therefore, having the experience of dealing with conflict and friction, which ultimately got sorted out, was highly beneficial. The fact that my team and I were well coordinated and happy with each other by the end is a mark of the progress we made to get to the position that many teams fail to achieve once on the path of conflict and stagnancy.
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