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Reflection on My Learning in Groups and Teams

Jonathan West Final Exam Learning in Groups and Teams, Spring 2009 Blog: Virginia Commonwealth University Dr. Terry Carter Due: 4 May 2009


As society has become more complex due to technology and other effects of globalization, the role working in groups and teams to solve problems and concerns in the workplace and society at large has grown. It is no longer feasible to think that a worker or citizen can simply learn one or two skills and contribute effectively to their workplace or social setting without interacting with peers or colleagues. The ability to work effectively in a group or team is becoming a necessity for a successful career, as well as perhaps essential to contribute meaningfully towards society. The old management model of command and control is loosing its effectiveness as a key motivation for workers to continue in their jobs is personal growth and development and not just repetitive task work. Work in todays society has become increasingly complex and consists of greater nonroutine functions with interdependence which are well suited to teamwork (Levi, 2007). Teams are more effective ways to handle this work and therefore are becoming more common in the workplace and many areas of life. The shift in to working in teams also involves a shift from a control oriented management towards a facilitative approach to leadership. As a result of this trend towards a facilitative model of working, it is important to understand many factors that affect the dynamics of group and team life. While studying the various aspects and elements of the dynamics of groups and teams in Learning in Groups and Teams, it was an excellent opportunity gain deeper insight into some of these principles by forming a team and working on team projects throughout the semester. This paper will review the essential aspects of teams in the context of the working of the Infrareds team. Key learning will be drawn out in relation to the team experience together with how this

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS can be applied to my work setting and personal development. Schwarzs Group Effectiveness Model will be used as a lens to view of the work of the Infrareds team and evaluate whether the team developed into an effective group. The group effectiveness model is based on the three criteria of performance, process, and personal and the three factors of group process, group

structure, and group context (Schwarz, Davidson, Carlson, & McKinney, 2005). I will use these factors to examine what I have learned about groups and teams this semester together with my experience as a team member of the Infrareds. Group Process As a part of analysis of group process, I will review two different theories of group development, Tuckman and Jensens stage model of group development (Levi, 2007) and Gersicks model of punctuated equilibrium (Gersick, 1988). In analyzing the group development of the Infrareds there is evidence that supports both of these models. Group development - Tuckman and Jensens stage model. Tuckman and Jensens model consists of the five stages of forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning (Levi, 2007). In the forming stage the members of the group or team get to know each other and figure out how they are going to operate. At this stage there is discomfort due to unfamiliarity together with confusion on how the team will function together. Its important at this point in team development to have a clear purpose, define goals, and plan how the team will accomplish their tasks. In the early stages of the Infrareds team there was some discomfort and confusion, I think, primarily due to the fact that we did not know each other well and did not have clear goals and an understanding of how we would function together as a team. Many of the models of group development suggest that social relations precede a groups performance stage. It is therefore important to focus on developing social relations early in the

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS teams existence. Social icebreaker activities serve as team warm-ups and are crucial to first team meetings (Levi, 2007). The shoebox exercise in the first class worked very well as an icebreaker that helped the red team share something about our personal life with our new team members. Hearing stories about team members lives definitely helped to develop a sense of connection and relationship. This was a significant starting point in the development towards cohesiveness.

The first task of developing a team charter further helped to both get to know each other and plan how we wanted to accomplish our work. Defining our purpose, goals, roles, expectation, values, and group norms was also an important step to take in the early stage of our team work (Levi, 2007). Through this exercise we learned more about each other and also discussed explicitly our goals, interests in how we would work together and also consider how we would handle any conflict or challenges. These were the basic elements of the forming stage. The Infrareds also experienced the storming and norming stages and, in my view, a hint of the performing stage during our three group projects. Levi (2007) says that the in the storming phase there are often conflicts and confusion about roles and project requirements. The Infrareds did experience some role confusion, and on occasion a lack of agreement of direction for the project or tasks. A few times one or another of the members had strong interests in a particular way of solving a problem that created some tension in the group for a short time. However, the storms passed and each time we were able to come to decisions that everyone seemed fully committed to supporting. The norming stage is when the group becomes more cohesive, conflict is reduced, and there is more team confidence. In this stage norms or ground rules have been developed and social relations are well enough developed to form a group identity. In the performing stage the

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS group has matured and knows how to operate and can focus successfully on its task. Using norms that have been developed, there is collaboration, collective decision making and cooperation (Levi, 2007).

In my view the Infrareds evolved into a cohesive group with limited conflict, good social relations, and team confidence that characterizes the norming stage. I think towards the end of our semesters work we progressed towards the performing stage. With the help of an understanding and practice of the Skilled Facilitator approach developed by Roger Schwarz (Schwarz et al., 2005), the dialogue of the team developed into a collaborative effort to complete the final tasks at hand. The social relations in the group also evolved to where the team enjoyed being together and actually had moments creativity and fun while accomplishing our work. We have not yet experienced the adjourning stage of group development, but I do hope we will have the opportunity to meet and review and evaluate our work before we disband. Group development - punctuated equilibrium model. In addition to Tuckmans stage model of group development, the Infrareds exhibited characteristics of Gersicks model of punctuated equilibrium (1988). In the punctuated equilibrium model the first half of the allotted project time is a period of stasis that is characterized by the first meeting for the project. There is then a major transition near the midpoint of the project timeline when old frameworks and patterns are discontinued, new perspectives are developed and remarkable progress is made towards the deadline. It seemed that for each of the projects the Infrareds followed the punctuated equilibrium model of development. At first it was disconcerting to think that the first phase of our project was not so apparently productive. However, even though there was not as much activity, the ideas, concepts, interests proposed at the first meeting seemed to ultimately contribute towards

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS the completed project, even if the original ideas were modified or changed. Perhaps this first period could be considered a rumination where initial ideas are predigested and during the transition, these ideas are reviewed and revised to send them to the second period to be fully digested with all the energy and value extracted and contribute significantly toward the completion of the project. Conflict management. Conflict is where there are opposing or contradictory interests

(, retrieved May 3, 2009) and is a normal part of the existence of groups and teams. Often there is an effort to avoid conflict. However, if we understand that conflict is a normal part of group life it is important to consider how to manage it. Conflict can be considered to be healthy as well as unhealthy to the working of a team. Healthy conflict is focused on task issues, legitimate differences of opinion about the task, differences in values and perspectives, and different expectations about the impact of decisions (Levi, 2007, p. 113). Unhealthy conflict is about competition over power, rewards, and resources; conflict between individual and group goals; poorly run team meetings; personal grudges from the past, and faulty communications (p. 113). Conflict changes over a teams development. Initially, there is little conflict and then there is conflict over norms, roles and status issues. When the team focuses on the task, there is conflict about how the tasks should be done. There was a variety of conflict that took place in the Infrareds team, primarily healthy. The majority of conflict was over legitimate differences of opinion about the task, differences in values and perspectives, and different expectations about the impact of decisions. On a couple of occasions there was tension in the team when members were focused on their own solutions and seemingly not willing to consider alternatives. There were a couple of ways these issues were resolved. One way that the tension of conflict was that some time passed and team members

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS (perhaps after some reflection) were willing to detach from their idea and be open to consider other ideas. Another approach that really seemed to help on the spot was to shift the focus from solutions to interests and ask team members to explain their reasoning and intent behind the solution they were advocating. I also noticed that there was some conflict over power. For one project the team leader

appointed was quite directive in his/her language and often used the imperative voice. This was a challenge for me (and others also expressed this later). I found myself reacting and getting defensive and this resulted in some tension in one of the meetings. This was a different way of working than I was used to, especially in a team where all were considered as equally contributing. It was insightful to study the types of power as well as the paradox of authority at this time in our class. Levi (2007) states that there are different types of power: personal or soft power, and positional or harsh power. Personal power originates from an individuals personality or characteristics and includes information, referent, and expert power. Positional or harsh power is derived from an individuals official position in an organization and is of three types: legitimate, reward, and coercive. Usually, team leaders have less legitimate power than traditional managers and thus often rely on expert and referent power to influence the team. The most effective use of power is when groups are given more power and control over their work and is called empowerment. Empowerment has four main dimensions: meaningfulness, potency, autonomy, and impact. Workers who are a part of empowered jobs have increased job satisfaction and motivation and an increased confidence in their ability to perform a task. I found that when the leadership in the Infrareds was more autocratic and less facilitative, I felt less respect for my perspective and also less motivated to contribute. In one instance in our


team work, I think the project leader had the intention of making decisions and giving directions in the interest of efficiency (this is an inference). The project leader did not explain their thinking or consult the group to see if there were differing points of view or ideas. For small decisions this did not matter so much. However, some decisions were made in this way that impacted all of the team members. I noticed that when language was strongly directive or perhaps even unilateral in nature the energy and motivation in the team decreased. Later, when the team discussed some of our processes, we found that there were cultural contributions to this way of expression and perhaps was not intended the way I had originally assumed. In the particular team members country and mother language, it is common to express things in the imperative although important how it is said. In my own reflection about this situation, I found that I was making high level inferences due to the language being used and did not test my inferences. As a result, I reacted defensively and there were unintended negative consequences that affected the group energy and motivation. It is also interesting to consider power from the perspective of the paradox of authority. Authority can be understood to be derived from an authorizing process that is dynamic and is therefore built or created. In a group, members can authorize someone to perform things on their behalf. It is the willingness of the members to accept the activities of authorized individual as an expression as parts of themselves that creates authority in the group (Smith & Berg, 1987, p. 134). It is the process of authorizing that creates the opportunity for individual contributions to have an influence on the work of the group and in the larger context of the group's interaction with the world at large. Authority is closely connected with empowerment. One develops power as one empowers the others. Taking power and using it often for ones self deprives others of the scarce commodity. However, if one obtains power and uses it to empower others, the total

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS amount individual and group power is amplified. So the work of those who have or create power is to create the condition in which others can move toward their own empowerment (Smith & Berg, 1987, p. 135). The risk and challenge of empowering others is that by giving


another authority, one may be deauthorizing oneself. One of the essential tasks of a group is to learn how to both authorize oneself and authorize others without assuming that, if one person in a group has authority, others cannot have it too. In my experience with recognizing authority in the Infrareds, I discovered the value of the paradoxical view. I learned that if I have issues acknowledging authority in others at times, it could very well be connected to my own issues of authorizing myself. Decision making. There are advantages and disadvantages with group decision making. A group or team brings more varied experience and resources to a situation than are available to an individual. Also, by sharing their knowledge through group discussion or shared media, new ideas can be generated that one person would not have developed. Group decision making also motivates group members towards better decisions and performance. Members are also more committed to decisions in which they are involved and will more likely help put them into action. Group decisions are superior to individual decisions when groups combine their resources to make decisions or solve problems. Groups can make better decisions by sharing resources when there is a group with diverse viewpoints, good communication and tasks or problems that are too complex for an individual to handle (Levi, 2007). There are many approaches teams can use to make decisions. Generally there are three main approaches to decision making that a team can use: consultative, democratic, or consensus. These range from leader based decisions to those made with full participation of the team. In consultative, the leader consults with the team and then decides. With democratic there is voting



with majority rule. With consensus there is full participation (Levi, 2007). It is important to use the decision making rule that generates the level of commitment needed (Schwarz et al., 2005). The main criteria for choosing a decision making approach are quality, speed, and acceptance. When problems are simple, the issue does not require action from most of the team, or the decision has to be made quickly, it is preferable to make individual decisions. Generally, decision making approaches that include participation and group discussion lead to higherquality decisions, especially if problems are unstructured or complex. Group decision making is slower, so the importance of the criteria of speed may be an issue. When acceptance is important, decisions should be made by consensus (Levi, 2007). Decision making in the Infrared team was primarily made by consensus. There were occasions when there were simple decisions or time was a factor that a consultative approach was used. A specific example is on the 12 Angry Men paper. After everyone contributed to the draft, the team decided that I would do a final run through to check for flow and connectedness and then hand it over to another team member (IF3 Infrared 3) for final editing and formatting to APA standards. Then, if IF3 had any questions she could call to check with me, if she had time (I was the team leader on that project). After IF3 finished the final copy, she then sent it around to everyone for a last quick review. This seemed to work well for the situation, except IF2 and IF1 both felt like they wanted to contribute more. Facilitation. Group facilitation is a process where a person who is neutral in regards to content is selected to help increase the effectiveness of the group by improving its process and structure. Process is in reference to how a group works together and includes how they make decisions, communicate with each other, solve problems, and how they handle conflict. Structure is in reference to recurring group processes, for example group roles, group membership, goals,

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS or group norms. Facilitation skills can be used in a variety of roles: facilitator (content neutral, process expert), facilitative consultant (process expert, content expert), facilitative coach (process expert, involved in content), facilitative trainer (process expert, content expert), or facilitative leader (process expert, content expert). Content neutral means that one facilitates without sharing ones opinions about the groups issues, and therefore does not influence the groups decisions. The Skilled Facilitator approach is an approach to facilitation that is a values-based, systemic approach to facilitation (Schwarz et al., 2005, p. 4). Some of the key features of the Skilled Facilitator approach are explicit core values, ground rules for effective groups, the diagnosis-intervention cycle, low level inferences, the group effectiveness model, and a systems approach.


The Infrareds team experience of facilitation according to the Skilled Facilitator approach evolved throughout the semester. In the beginning I would say the group exhibited characteristics of the unilateral control model when there were differences of opinions or perspectives. I think this was primarily due to lack of understanding, experience, and practice rather than intention. When in psychologically threatening or embarrassing situations we usually revert to the unilateral control model without being aware of it even if we espouse different values (Schwarz et al., 2005). Since I had the opportunity to learn about the Skilled Facilitator approach several years ago, I was able to use some of the ground rules in our early team meetings although, at times, I still found myself reverting to a unilateral control theory-in-use. The ground rules that I found particularly helpful were: use specific examples; explain your reasoning and intent (could you share your thinking behind that?); focus on interests, not positions; and advocacy and inquiry.

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS As the team progressed through the semester, learning about various aspects of group dynamics and was introduced to the elements of the Skilled Facilitator approach, we began to


practice more skilled dialogue which led to more effective discussions, higher quality work, and personal satisfaction. Particularly, we began to explain our reasons for statements, inquire about others interests and their thinking on a particular topic. Intra-team dynamics. In my view the inter-team dynamics of the Infrareds contained the elements of support, open communication, trust, full participation, empowerment and feedback. While at the beginning the trust was not very high because we did not know each other well and had not worked together so the dependency and interdependency was low. There was, however, an openness to learn, willingness to participate fully, and an interest to do the best possible. As we began to trust each other, we also began to authorize each other to take responsibility for our respective tasks. This empowerment led to high interdependency and a greater sense of group identity and accomplishment. Inter-team dynamics. I did not notice a high degree of inter-team dynamics. Some of our team occasionally reported on what the other teams were posting on their wikis, particularly on the first project. Since what we were doing was quite different from the other teams, this caused a bit of hesitancy in our group. However, we did continue on our chosen path. I also did not notice any overt competition or negative attitudes or interaction with other groups. Although there was no explicit sense of competing, the mere presence of three other teams did seem to be an underlying motivation to make greater efforts to perform successfully, especially when it came to the class presentations. Group Structure



Leadership. Leadership is a process in which a person influences the progress of a team towards reaching a goal which is not necessarily resting with just one person. Leadership is a set of functions or a process which may be carried out by many of a teams members. When a leader is rotated or elected, they usually have limited power and serve mostly to facilitate the group process. A designated leader with organizational power can be helpful when structure is needed and the task is complex, when there is significant conflict in the team, or when someone is needed to manage the connection with other parts of the organization. A team leader is different than a manager. A manager is authorized to make decisions, whereas a team leader acts to facilitate decision making (Levi, 2007). As an alternative to a designated leader, there is the option having a self-managing team. In a self-managing team there is no leader with authority from the organization and decisions are made by consensus. The leader acts to facilitate the decision making process instead of managing the group. There are two types of leaders in self-managing teams: power building and empowered. In power-building leadership, the leader is an active, democratic-oriented person who teaches the group team skills and guides team-building efforts. The leader provides structure, helps coordinate the team, and encourages and rewards good performance However, the leader retains control over team behaviors and long-term strategic direction (Levi, 2007, p. 169). Empowered leadership is less involved. The leader serves as a facilitator but does not control major decisions or the teams work process. This kind of team is really self-governing. As a part of our original planning, the Infrareds assigned each project a different team leader. These were mostly nominal roles. However, the actual working of the team fit more in the definition of a self-managing team. Leadership also changed according to tasks. If someone had a keen interest in a task, they would take responsibility for completing it or at least putting a

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS draft together for the team to review. There was a sense of mutual purpose, responsibility, and


accountability which each team member took seriously and this had a very positive impact on the morale of the team. Group Context The group context was provided by the classroom structure and professor. The overall mission and vision of the purpose of the team was clearly given in our first class and course materials. The professor and university setting also provided a supportive culture including information and feedback. In addition, we receive training in the various aspects of team functioning and had the opportunity to consult with an expert when needed. All of these factors were not as prominent as some of the factors in the group process or group structure area, however, they contributed significantly to the team becoming an effective team. Personal reflections on other facets of the Infrareds team work Challenging aspects of performing as a project team. The most challenging aspects of working together as a project team were going through the forming and storming stages where there was lack of clarity about roles and goals and we still did not know each other so well. It was also more challenging when conflict situations surfaced and we did not have the guidelines of the core values and ground rules of the Skilled Facilitator approach and tended to operate in a more unilateral way. My role in the team and how it evolved over time. I think a key role for me was serving to facilitate the group process as well as to offer alternative perspectives and analysis on aspects of content. I was nominated to lead the first project and found this to be a bit of a challenge because the other team members seemed intent on getting the tasks done, while I was interested in the process. I also was trying to see that each team member had an opportunity to be heard if they

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS had something to say. When members had different ideas and wanted to push forward with a


solution that one or another had proposed, I asked what the interests were and what they thinking was behind their proposed solution. This seemed to be a new process for most of the team and they were impatient with me about this at first because it seemed to take more time. I became a bit anxious and felt some pressure to give in to the orientation to task, but I felt it was important for me to go slower and get clarity on our goals for the project. I also felt it was important to reach consensus on the decisions we made affecting our direction, which we agreed in our charter we would try to achieve were possible, especially important decisions. There was one instance very early on in the first project where one team member made a suggestion and the other two members immediately discounted it quite abruptly without trying to understand what the first team member intended. When I asked the first person to share what their interests were and explain how they were thinking to use their suggestion, the other two team members were a bit astonished and seemed to realize they may have reacted too quickly to discount the idea. We eventually used this idea in our project. I think this was an instance where giving a team member the opportunity to share their viewpoint in an atmosphere of curiosity really helped the person feel like a valued team member. It was also at a crucial timing in the team development that a sense of openness to share was experienced. While having quite a bit of experience working in teams, facilitating, and even leading teams, I wanted to serve as a regular team member and not make too much of my experience and rather really learn more about all of the aspects of team dynamics. I feel like this worked OK and I could contribute and help facilitate at times when needed. When we did the pink elephant exercise my co-team members commented that they actually appreciated how, in the first project, I asked them to explain their reasoning and inquired about their interests. They said at first it

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS seemed like it would take too long, but later they saw how it helped the group. I was surprised and delighted to hear this because I had not known if my approach were appreciated.


In a sense I felt like an outsider or deviant at first because I was interested more in having an effective process in addition to the content of our projects and the other team members did not seem to share this interest. However, over time as we learned more about team dynamics and skilled dialogue, my role also changed from intervening in a facilitative manner to supporting other team members in their facilitative efforts. Lessons I have learned that I can apply to my work setting. Some key points that I have learned about working with groups and teams that I can apply to my work setting are: It is important to spend time planning and have clear purpose, goals, and roles and put these in the form of a charter. Social relations are important and not just useless time spent, although there needs to be a balance with task. It is important to realize that a group evolves over time and that there are different ways of looking at group development. It is helpful to have explicit values as well as group norms or ground rules. Conflict is normal and can be healthy and bring higher quality decisions. Look at things from a systemic point of view. Looking at group life from the perspective of paradoxes can add a valuable insight. And I also have a better understanding of the core values and ground rules of the Skilled Facilitator approach as well as more conscious efforts of putting these into practice. How have I changed my beliefs, values, or assumptions about the purpose and functions of groups and teams. One key assumption that I had about working with groups and teams is that conflict is negative or unhealthy. I now see that there can also be healthy conflict. Actually, that there are legitimate differences in opinion or differences in opinions or viewpoints was not so new to me. I would not have called this conflict. Previously, I had a sense of the value of

REFLECTION ON GROUPS AND TEAMS groups and teams, but now I have a much clearer picture of the essential elements and factors


that influence the successful functioning of groups and teams and feel I could convey this much more easily to others. Behaviors I would like to work on and how I intend to monitor my performance. I would like to have a deeper understanding about the underlying principles of the ladder of inference and gain greater insight and awareness into how I make untested inferences and assumptions. I think to do this I will first need to review the material in the Schwarz fieldbook. I also will make efforts to be more conscious of my theory-in-use and reflect on crucial or difficult conversations that I encounter to see the steps I make up the ladder of inference. I will keep record of this in a journal or perhaps blog. I think that I often make untested inferences, especially in more emotionally charged situations and as a result there are often unintended consequences. If I can become more aware of this perhaps I can shift more towards using the mutual learning model as a theory-in-use on a more consistent basis. Conclusion I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the Infrareds and the whole class of Learning in Groups and Teams. I think that I can say that the Infrareds worked effectively as a group according to Schwarzs three criteria for group effectiveness: performance the services met or exceeded standards, process the group enhanced its ability to work together, and personal members experienced growth and development (Schwarz et al., 2005). One of the things that I found very effective in this class was the learning within learning taking place. We were studying about the dynamics of groups and teams and various aspects of group facilitation while we were simultaneously in our teams practically experiencing many of the same issues. This learning within learning was a powerful experience and I think helped immensely to gain deeper



insight into the theories and principles being studied. I will carry with me many of the practical and valuable insights I gained to my future encounters with the many groups and teams I will surely encounter.



References Conflict. (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913), Retrieved May 3, 2009, from Gersick, C. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. Academy of Management Journal, 31, 9-41. Levi, D. (2007). Group dynamics for teams (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Schwarz, R., Davidson, A., Carlson, P., & McKinney, S. (2005). The skilled facilitator fieldbook: Tips, tools, and tested methods for consultants, facilitators, managers, trainers, and coaches. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Smith, K., & Berg, D. (1987). Paradoxes of group life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.