Working in Groups

Teams are defined as formal work groups consisting of two or more people who interact and influence each other, and work together to achieve a common group goal (McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione, 2013), yet a when comprised of a collection of people who work together, but do not collectively work towards the same goal, this is referred to as a group (De Janasz, Wood, Gottschalk, Dowd & Schnieder, 2009).

These definitions show that there are certain aspects that differentiate a group of people from a team, and that to be effective; teams need to have a common goal and have committed and satisfied members (McShane et al., 2013). When analysing the process of working in our group, it is clear that there may be certain aspects that set us apart from being a cohesive and an effective working team. In this essay, I aim to explore the reasons as to why this lack of cohesion occurred, the resulting work environment, and potential ways that this could be rectified or avoided in the future.

The first issue is that one member of the team, Steph P, did not seem to form a strong relationship with other team members. In the initial team formation, myself, Elly, Steph B and Olivia were happy to work in a team together, and it was not until the next week that Steph P was assigned to our team.

According to De Janasz et al. (2009), team members must resolve several issues and pass through several stages of development before evolving into an effective work unit. Tuckman’s Stages of Development Model (1965) captures teams moving systematically from one stage to the next, over four stages. The four stages are forming, storming, norming and performing (Tuckman and Jensen [1977] later added another stage adjourning, referring to the disbanding of the team).

• Forming: team members get to know each other, defer authority, discover expectations and test boundaries of behaviour. •Storming: interpersonal conflict between team members in the aim to identify their roles, and norms of appropriate behaviour are established. •Norming: team roles are established and there is a sense of cohesion and a consensus around group objectives. •Performing: team members have learnt to effectively coordinate and resolve conflicts, have a high level of trust and are committed to the group objectives. •Adjourning: team members shift their focus from the task orientation to a relationship focus.

Although our team undertook an action to get to know each other through our first meeting at Gloria Jeans, I believe that the formation stage had already begun within the classroom when the group was initially put together, and this created a basis for a stronger relationship between Elly, Steph B, Olivia and I, leaving Steph P slightly on the back foot. In class we also went through our team roles discovered from Belbin’s Team Roles Questionnaire, and assigned each member to a particular role.

This task was particularly difficult because there was a lot of overlap between our roles. We decided as follows: Myself as the Driver and Coordinator, Steph B as the Implementer and Driver, Olivia as the Implementer and Supporter, Elly as the Implementer and Monitor, and Steph P as the Implementer, Supporter and Resource Investigator.

The overlap between the roles became particularly evident throughout our storming stage, whereby I personally felt conflict within myself in relation to Steph B and my Driver roles. Steph B and I both exert strong influence over the group, but with time, our roles became more apparent and Steph B seemed to fall naturally into her Implementer role whereby she could pursue our set goals systematically and efficiently, allowing me to take the role of the Driver and provide leadership to the team; at this point we evolved into the norming stage and further into the performing stage.

Belbin (1981) states that high performing teams need to have a balanced representation of all team roles, and this could potentially be another reason for Steph P’s disconnect from the group. With herself, Olivia and Steph B all falling into the Implementer role, perhaps she felt stuck in the storming stage between these team members and therefore could not comfortably fall into her role as the resource investigator.

Hall (2007) proposes that unless a team satisfactorily progresses through the forming and storming stages, some or all agreed-on norms may be dysfunctional and emotionally charged issues will remain on the surface. It’s not to say that I think we weren’t able to work as a team, because in fact I believe that four members, Elly, Steph B, Olivia and I, went through all our stages of development to comfortably perform together as a team, yet Steph P never became a part of that.

After our meeting at Gloria Jeans, I initiated a discussion to establish our group expectations and goals, asking specifically what grade we were aiming for. All members nominated an HD as our goal, except for Steph P who wanted to aim for a D. Therefore, it seems that our problem starts with our goals, whereby Steph P’s exerted effort, only relates to the aim for a D grade, but the rest of the group is working harder for the HD.

As a result of this variation in work standard, it is evident that social loafing has occurred on Steph P’s behalf. Social loafing is the tendency for individuals to withhold contributions and exert less effort in a team setting, whereby one or more team members are left to take on additional responsibility to ensure that the work task gets done (Latane, Williams, & Harkins, 1979).

McShane et al. (2013) explains that social loafing occurs less in team members who value team membership and believe in working towards the team’s objectives, and when looking back I can only help but think that as the leader of the group, I could have potentially done more to ensure that Steph P felt more motivated and included within the group, or taken action to initially divide the responsibilities and set up check points to ensure every member is contributing equally (De Janasz et al., 2009).

Despite these differences, there was no approach to actually resolve this conflict. A conflict is defined as a process whereby an individual perceives that another person has negatively affected something that matters to him or her (Thomas, 1992), and according to Meyer (2004), unresolved conflict can lead to a high frequency of future conflict and has a negative effect on job performance and productivity.

But when deciding which conflict management technique to use, the intersection between relationship and goal importance needs to be contemplated (De Janasz et al., 2009), and considering that the team task was quite short in nature and that the interpersonal relationship is not one that I (and from my understanding Elly, Steph B or Olivia) would wish to pursue, we decided it would be best to avoid the issue regarding Steph P.

However, when looking back at this decision, I’m thinking that if we had approached the conflict differently, we could have come up with a better presentation. When making decisions, our team used the method of brainstorming where team members are encouraged to speak freely and generate as many ideas as possible and build on the ideas of others, without criticising (De Janasz et al., 2009), and perhaps due to the lack of comfort, Steph P reluctantly agreed with our decisions and did not speak up; groupthink.

Elly, Olivia, Steph B and myself were not afraid to open up and tell each other what we thought in terms of constructive criticism, yet Steph P never got involved. If we had approached the conflict differently by means of collaboration, we would not necessarily have to agree, but Steph P could be comfortable enough to express disagreement and opinions to work towards an optimal task solution (Haller, Gallagher, Weldon & Felder, 2000).

De Janasz et al. (2009) explains that managing conflict can lead to increased involvement, cohesion and creativity from team members, but also that effective team leaders are those who are selective to which conflicts they pursue. I feel that if the nature of the team task were different and allowed for more time, I would have taken the initiative to resolve the issue through team building whereby I could further emphasise our objectives, clarified expectations and developed shared goals and norms within the group.

I am disappointed that Steph P did not contribute more into this assignment, and I feel like as a leader I could have done more to search for a common ground between her and the rest of the group by asking open-ended questions to try and gain more involvement. Maybe if we had approached the conflict, she would have learnt an important lesson about working as a team, but as she displayed very little interest or enthusiasm in my attempts to get her involved, I resulted in feeling as though I had no chance of satisfying her needs.

Through this experience I have learned that the development of a team is crucial, and that as a leader, it is my responsibility to ensure that the developmental stage is moving smoothly, and if it is not, to evaluate the situation to determine a suited conflict management strategy.

While working in the team, I tried to ensure that my dominance did not take over and that I communicated with team members in a firm yet caring manner, and to encourage and motivate team members via our Facebook page by means of recognizing contributions to the task. I feel as though I will be more aware when working in teams in the future, and will be especially more cautious of other team member’s alignment with the team goals; the separating factor between a mere group of people and a team!

References:

Belbin, M. (1981). Management Teams, Why They Succeed or Fail. London: Heinemann.

De Janasz, S., Wood, G., Gottschalk, L., Dowd, K., & Schnieder, B. (2009). Interpersonal Skills in Organisations. North Ryde, NSW: McGraw-Hill.

Hall, J. (2007). Dynamic interactions between two models of team development and learning: Implications for performance and human resource managers. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 18(3), 421-430.

Haller, C. R., Gallagher, V. J., Weldon, T. L., & Felder, R. M. (2000). Dynamics of peer education in cooperative learning workgroups. Journal of Engineering Education, 89, 285–293.

Latane, B., Williams, K., & Harkins, S. (1979). Many hands make light the work: the causes and consequences of social loafing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 6, 822–832

McShane, S., Olekalns, M., & Travaglione, T. (2013) Organisational Behaviour: emerging knowledge : global insights. (4th ed.). North Ryde, NSW: McGraw-Hill.

Meyer, S. (2004). Organizational response to conflict: Future conflict and work outcomes. Social Work Research, 3, 183–190.

Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and negotiation processes in organizations. In M. D. Dunnette & L. M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (2nd ed., pp. 651–717). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequences in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384–399

Tuckman, B., & Jensen, M. (1977). Stages of small group development revisited. Group and Organizational Studies, 2, 419–427.