My initial reaction to the prospect of working as a team member with a group of people I did not know well was negative. By nature, I have always been a “Loner”, did not enjoy team sports or games, and tended to enjoy individual activities. In preference to group gymnastics or callisthenics I preferred solitary walks or running. The underlying concept of working as a member of a team was unnatural, but did not create any fear or hostility. My initial approach was to do whatever was required as well as possible and get the entire exercise over with so it would be possible to go on to more “relevant” activities. My ambitions centre around research and analysis as opposed to direct participation in management, marketing or human relations that require a group mentality. The entire exercise was simply something that was required to complete the course. My position was similar to the team member described in Chillibreeze. (Chillibreeze, 2011)
Team Objective and Ultimate Reaction
The teams were created arbitrarily and the first meeting date and time assigned as part of the curriculum. The first team meeting was held, and the only thing determined was the time, place and date of the next weekly meeting. The first meeting was an almost classic example of the concept that teams can mask internal strife for management authority or power. (Bendix, 1956/1974) The only substantive discussion that took place concerned the individual that would be the team leader. With the details of the next meeting set and the agreement that each individual would bring with him or her a ballot with the name of the individual that should be the leader of the team.
Week 1. Was there a team?
The first question that occurred to me was, what is the objective this team is trying to achieve? It seemed clear to me that there was no team as there was no strategic goal identified that the team was to find a way to achieve. This is clearly a criteria of teams based on the work of Campbell & Campbell. (Campbell & Campbell, 1988) A team without a goal is simply a social group; people talking to each other about whatever interests them at the moment. Team participation was a course requirement so I selected one of the names on the list of team members in my team, team 3. I was acquainted with some of the other members of the team but knew them only as faces with whom I had taken other courses.
Week 2. Selecting a team leader
The meeting the second week began with two of the team members agreeing to “count the ballots.” Three members had two ballots each. Six other members had one ballot each. I was one of those with no ballots, what a relief! At this point the meeting became rather animated with discussions of who would be the team captain, leader, or spokesman. A part of the discussion was the differences between a captain, leader and a spokesman. Based on the course work presented to this point it was clear that a work team could be production integrated, ad-hoc or permanent, autonomous or cross-functional and dimensional. At this point our team was none of these things. It was however vocal and enthusiastic.
After almost another hour of discussion I found the situation intolerable. I rose and went to the front of the room and raised both arms over my head. This attracted attention and I made calming gestures by dropping my hands. I then made a short speech somewhat as follows, “We have a team with no leader and we can’t even agree on what to call the leader when he or she is selected. I suggest that the problem is we are a team with no direction, no goal. As a Chinese, I have spent a good deal of time doing research on the subject of the global shortage of potable water. I will contribute this work to the team, and suggest that the objective of the team is to bring this global problem to the attention of the public, particularly here in the United Kingdom where there is no serious water shortage. This may not be a topic of general interest, but it is an identifiable and probably achievable goal. I have no interest in being team leader, only in making my topic one of more general interest.”
One of the other group members stood up and said, “He is right, we need a goal and this is a perfectly good one. All agreed raise their hands.” There were a few minutes of acrimonious discussion and the goal was agreed. A few more minutes later, to my dismay, I found myself team leader. I collected e-mail addresses and promised to send a condensation of my work on potable water problems to each team member within a few days. We agreed on the next meeting place, time, and date and adjourned. This involved more work than I had planned, but was of value to me in my own projects as well as the group.
It was immediately clear to me that the approach of “my team” would by necessity be based on what Likert considered level IV or Participative Group team management. This would imply that there is total equality among team participants and communication and decision-making is a team and not a leadership concept. (Likert, 1961) Most authors seem to consider that level IV is the closest thing to an ideal work environment, and this was obviously what was intended under my “team leadership.” The team began to resemble the leaderless model described by Chillbreeze. (Chillbreeze, 2011)
Week 3 Organising the team
In the week 3 meeting I was pleased to discover that several members had read all of the material provided and several more at least parts of it. Those that had read my material were now enthusiastic. This in turn inspired me to try and make the team’s performance as strong as possible. This was not in many ways an example of the Belbin hypotheses concerning team leadership and performance. The enthusiasm seemed spontaneous and based on the subject of the team goals. (Belbin, 2010 p.176) It would be surprising if the academic recluse selected by acclimation proved to be an effective leader.
In this meeting I attempted to institute some of the elements of decision- making on a team level to be discussed in the lecture of the following week. Specifically, what would the team attempt to accomplish on a specific level and suggested some general areas like informational meeting and gaining publicity for the subject and public interest in what we were attempting to achieve. More intellectually, how could we better define our goals as a group?
Week 4 Developing sub groups
When I arrived a few minutes before the 16:00 meeting time 9 people were already there, and it almost appeared that the meeting had started without me. There were three separate discussion groups in animated conversations with papers spread on the meeting table. Two more members arrived with a few minutes, and by the 16:00 agreed time eleven of the twelve of us were present. I called the meeting to order and following Robert’s Rules of Order (Robert’s Rules of Order, no date) brought up old business first.. Nine of the ten on time attendees had read it all the material provided, and several had found additional material and brought it up in various ways. At this point the tardy attendee arrived and apologised to the group profusely. She had read all my data and had found some very relevant references that suggested additional questions.
The level of interest and enthusiasm for the rather arcane subject of water conservation and water resource development that had developed was incredible. As the “selected” team leader it seemed it was my job to channel this wonderful enthusiasm into a viable project. The problem was to impose enough order to create some organisation without impinging on individual enthusiasm. I we identify a few important goals and then set up sub-groups to find ways to first develop then implement programs that would accomplish the sub goals. The initiative quickly developed into a discussion between two team leaders that had some well-developed ideas and after discussion the team agreed on:
1.Developing an informational brochure
2.Developing a proposed general informational meeting format
3.Identifying some speaker or outside leaders for the meetings
4.Contacting the university authorities concerning the meeting and attempting to set
times and facilities.
5.Raising funding for the team activities.
By the fifth meeting some elements had begin to become clear. Our work groups had become effectively self managing and self designed teams, but only one, the fund raising group seemed to have selected a single leader. The others were semiautonomous groups that at the same time seemed to be drawing together to be rather effective. Again, this was not exactly in line with the models presented in the course reference, Banker, Field, Schroeder and Sinha. It seemed to focus on the concepts of semiautonomous, self-managing and self-designing teams that they discuss. Banker, R. Field, J. Schroeder, R. Sinha, K. (1996) The other element that seemed to be lacking was the internal conflict and resolution problems pointed to by Lencioni. While there were differences of opinion and conflicting ideas within the sub groups there seemed little if any strife. (Lencioni, 2005)
The internal design and process of out team seemed to be drawing together nicely with little direction. We had goals purpose and the things within the team seemed to working well. The only problem seemed to be communication, based on excessive enthusiasm. Looking at (Matha & Boehm, 2008) I tried to bring some order into meetings by getting people to allow other members to finish their thoughts before talking over them. The objective was to achieve this without appearing to be a martinet or discouraging enthusiasm. The objective was to produce the “working group” as designated in the lectures as a circle with a centre
Somehow I was becoming an effective leader. We were making real progress in several areas as a team, and the team members were doing the actual “leg work”. They had visited with the university administration, local newspapers, and banks and other local businesses concerning securing funding. This was tangible progress, and an academic recluse had somehow accomplished this. I was transmitting to my team members concepts of teamwork, collaboration, internal communications and most surprising providing that was so right that I converted the contemplative academic into a catalyst for change. Perhaps more important on a personal level, what was changing me?
With the meeting of week 8 there were initial drafts on our publicity and the brochure on water problems that we were preparing as a group. We had tentative dates for the use of university facilities to hold a series of meeting, and outlines of target groups and subjects for the meeting and two tentative commitments for funding if we could produce a satisfactory program. My own state was amazing; I looked at the four dimensions of intelligent leadership as presented by Boyatzis, Goleman & Rhee.
Self-awareness–knowing yourself and what your emotions are telling you?
A reclusive little Oriental academic morphed into an effective leader? I was not quite sure what happened, but it brought up the second BGR question; Self-management–being able to manage and control your own emotional state. I was euphoric about the success of the group, but had trouble crediting my own efforts. Compared to the efforts of the other members mine seemed very small. This in turn brought up the questions of social awareness and relationship management. Somehow I was recognising and reading people and groups accurately and relating to and influencing others. The did what I wanted without aggression or even great effort on my part.
Team leadership at this point seem more a coordinating and integrating function than anything else. Each of the four sub teams is doing their job and doing it well. The meeting was more about coordinating what was happening and keeping everyone informed on where each element of the project was. This involved a good deal of cross talk between sub teams and information exchange. Each one agreed to have a position summary and suggestions for a further meeting in a day or two that would be in effect a continuation of the initial meeting. They would also provide some suggestions to integrate better and move the whole project ahead.
The second meeting was constructive but there was some contention concerning responsibilities and some disagreement as to how best to move forward. In two cases it was necessary for me, as a leader, to make the decision. This actually solved the problems without animosity. It seems almost a textbook example of the graphic in the PowerPoint presentation reproduced below.
The progress in week ten was basically a continuing development of the process begun in week nine concerning integrating the functions of the sub-teams. Part of the reason that this was as successful as it was probably related to what would be considered “Cross-Functional Teams” in a conventional environment. We were simply students with no hierarchical or employment position to defend or emphasise. The exercise was far different from a team in a corporate or organisational situation. We were short of no resources except money, and the actions of the team were apparently solving that problem. None of the members had any jurisdictions, and power and status were unimportant among a group of students. The goal was clear, come up with a good project to get a good grade. The most important learning output for me was the discovery that not only could I be a leader but also an effective if low key one.
Week 11 Negotiations
There was little real negotiation within our team. There were sometimes questions but these were almost invariable agreed with no real conflict of animosity among team members. When there was an impasse it was easy for the team leader to step in and resolve them. During week 11 a team member brought in an article from CNN concerning Singapore’s efforts to secure its water supply. (CNN.com, 2011) This indicated what we were involved in was of broad interest.
The final team meeting was devoted to detailing how each of the steps was to be carried out, a treasurer’s report, reconciliation of the budget, and other final steps. What was clear was that our team would follow through after the course was over and accomplish something concerning bringing the world’s water problems to public attention.
Summary, Reflections and learning
From a selfish standpoint I suspect I gained the most from the exercise. I learned that a reclusive Oriental academic could become an effective leader. I can look back and see things that could have been done better, but I learned that could be effective when required. I was amazed at the number of academic theories were relevant to the team building process and team perform with a minimum of internal dissension. In my own case it was a powerful learning experience.
Banker, R. Field, J. Schroeder, R. Sinha, K. (1996) “Impact of Work Teams on
Manufacturing Performance: A Longitudinal Field Study.” Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 39. No 4 pp. 867-890
Belbin, M. (2010) Management Teams, Oxford. Butterworth-Heinemann
Bendix, R. (1956/1974) “Work and authority in industry.” Oxford, England: Wiley. (1956). University of California Press; California ed edition (August 29, 1974)
Boyatzis, R. Goleman,D. Rhee, K (1999) “CLUSTERING COMPETENCE IN EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: INSIGHTS FROM THE EMOTIONAL COMPETENCIE INVENTORY (ECI) Western ReserveUniversity, Cleveland, Ohio Recovered 26/04/2011 from: http://weatherhead.case.edu/departments/organizational-behavior/workingPapers/WP%2099-6.pdf
Buchanan, D. & Huczynski, A. (2010) ‘Organizational Behavior’ Prentice Hall
Campbell, J. and Campbell, R. (1988) “Productivity in Organizations: New Perspectives
from Industrial and Organizational Psychology.” San Francisco, Jossey Bass.
Chillbreeze (2011) “Improving Productivity Through Leaderless Teams. ” Recovered 29/04/2011 from: http://www.chillibreeze.com/articles_various/leaderless-teams.asp
CNN.com (07/04/2011) “How Singapore is makng sure it doesn’t run out of water”
Recovered 30/4/2011 from: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/04/07/ singapore.water.dilemma/index.html?hpt=Sbin
Likert, R. (1961) “New Patterns of Management” New York City, McGraw Hill
Lencioni, (2002) “Making Your Values Mean Something.” Harvard Business Review. July 2002. Recovered 29/04/2011 from: http://oxygenfororganizations.com/wp-content/
Matha, B & Boehm, (2008) M. ‘Beyond the Babble: Leadership Communication that drives results’
Robert’s Rules of Order Web Site (no date) Recovered 28/04/2011 from: http:// www.robertsrules.com/