Monday, August 17, 2009

Reflections on Teamwork

Law, S. & Glover, D. (2000). Leading Effective Teams. In Educational leadership and learning: Practice, policy and research (pp. 71-86). Buckingham: Open University Press.
Law and Glover relate teamwork and the leadership of effective teams to the educational (school) context. I am going to consider the article from the point of view of one who is currently working in a team. How is our group for assignment 1 going? Can I see any pointers towards success or failure in this article?
A team is a group that is deliberately constructed for a particular purpose. Well, that's certainly true of us! We've been thrown together to:
1. Complete a set task (assignment 1A) which is a powerpoint presentation including the purpose and audience of our article, an abstract of our article, and a list of references.
2. Demonstrate our ability to collaborate on a task, communicate with one another, and 'team build'.
3. Provide us with opportunities and experiences in collaboration, communication and teamwork that we can later reflect on for assignment 1B.
The benefits of working in a team include:
  • help/support
  • coordinates activities
  • generates commitment
  • meets human need for belonging
  • identifies learning needs
  • provides learning opportunities
  • enhances communication
  • enhances working environment

So how does our team stack up? I think that completing the task of assignment 1A as a group, rather than individually, definitely provides help/support, identifies learning needs and provides learning opportunities. We share ideas, insights, helpful resources we have found and other knowledge. And if we didn't have such a DEADLINE to worry about, I would say that it definitely makes our work more "satisfying, stimulating and enjoyable" (Law & Glover, p. 73). But our group is 'artificial', in that we are not people working together in an organisation that have formed a team. In that case, I can see how a team approach would enhance communication and coordinate activities. It doesn't really apply in our case. How about the idea of generating commitment? I'm pretty sure that we're all pretty committed to passing our assignment! Are we more committed out of a sense of responsibility to the group? Lastly, the human need for belonging? I'm pretty sure that we're all having that need met outside our uni studies...

Law & Glover discuss the development of teams. Team members face issues along the road to team cohesion including "Am I part of this group?", "What degree of influence do I have in this group?", "What is the level of intimacy in this group?", and "Does the group like and accept me?". Often a team goes through the developmental phases of 'forming', 'storming', 'norming' and 'performing' (finally 'adjourning'). Teams may not work effectively if they haven't worked through their issues, resolved their leadership, or clearly defined their purpose, mission and objectives.

And here's where our group (and all the others grappling with this assignment) will have troubles. Firstly, we just don't have time for our team to develop. We need to go rapidly from 'forming' to 'performing', with very little time for us to overcome our worries about influence, acceptance and intimacy, or work through our objectives to come to a shared understanding. Secondly, leadership? What leadership? We have been thrown together as four equals. Do we have a leader? Do we need a leader? Will we each take on the leadership role at different times?

Next Law & Glover talk about conformity within teams. The team environment tends to push members towards conformity. Firstly, we use the other group members beliefs, attitudes and opinions to validate our own views, and secondly, we want to be liked and accepted. Is this dynamic at work in our group? Well certainly we're using our fellow group members as sounding boards to refine our own ideas about the task. "What do you think this means?", "Are we expected to...?", "I think...what do you think?", are examples of our discussions. I'm sure that at least a little part of us also wants to be liked and accepted, but I think more important is the fact that we are working to such a short deadline. This puts pressure on us to conform purely for the purpose of 'getting on with it'. Too much questioning and disagreeing wastes too much precious time that we could be using on the task itself.

I found the table on p. 81 of the Glover & Law article particularly interesting. It was adapted from the work of Belbin. It lists the different roles that can be undertaken by individuals working in a team and some of the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of each role. For example, the 'Innovator' is a serious-minded individual who synthesises new ideas. While he/she has imagination, intellectual ability and creativity, he/she tends to prefer ideas over people, and can disregard practical issues. Fascinating stuff!

There is an increasing emphasis on teamwork in the field of school effectiveness. It seems that classroom relationships and management approaches reflect the larger school culture of relationships and management. And student learning outcomes are effected by student-teacher relationships.

Lastly, Glover & Law suggest some traps that teams can fall into which diminish their effectiveness:

  • emphasising tasks over process
  • too much discussion and not enough problem-solving action
  • too little celebration of achievement (must not fall into this one!!!)
  • too much reactive behaviour and not enough proactive thinking
  • not enough development of team skills and behaviour

All in all, much food for thought.


Sarbear said...

I had a group project in my communications class... reminds me of this post. I remember learning about the traps that teams can fall into. One of our team members didn't help out at all so we booted her, after giving her so many chances and then she called us all sorts of bad things, lol.
Interesting post, Fiona!

Fiona said...

Thanks for the comment!

Fiona :)

Witch Baby said...

This is an interesting post - considering that my company just broke a bunch of employees into teams to see if that will elevate individuals to better production.

I was spared the selection process / team building exercises - because I work 3rds by myself.

Fiona said...

Thanks for the comment :)