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Aalto University / IDBM

Reflections on Team Dynamics during the Theories in IDBM course

Tushar Malhotra 9/18/2011

People say that it cant work - black and white; well here we make it work, every day. We have our disagreements, of course, but before we reach for hate, always, always, we remember the Titans You look like a bunch of fifth grade sissies after a cat fight! You got anger, thats good. Youre gonna need it; you got aggression thats even better. You gonna need that, too. But any little two year old child can throw a fit! Football is about controlling that anger, harnessing that aggression into a team effort to achieve perfection! From the movie Remember the Titans

Background / Introduction
The two week intensive Theories in IDBM course provided various opportunities for working in diverse teams on time bound tasks. This included the teamwork done during the HBR case and the presentation on Effectiveness of Teams, during the project management exercise, during the ideation workshop and the teamwork done as part of the Martela project. Among these, the last one (Martela project) was where we spent majority of the time during the course. This paper is a reflection of my personal experiences and observations while working in these teams mostly the Martela project - during the course. While I have tried to be objective and base my analysis & interpretations solely on the observations during the course, it is possible that the past experiences I have had working in teams at my workplace have colored my perspective and judgment.

Team Diversity
During the Martela project (and other teams as well) the diversity in the teams manifested in multiple dimensions including academic backgrounds, work experiences and nationalities. Of these, the most evident was the difference in backgrounds which resulted in different styles of working and different ways of and opinions about making decisions. Fortunately, in our case, most of these differences actually resulted in better final outcomes for the team. This was mainly because all the members in the team were receptive to each other and willing to listen, reason about and accept the best ideas even if they werent their own. Personally for me, there were at least two specific instances when I noticed the difference between my own approach / perspective vis--vis that of others from a different background. One was while choosing a prototyping technique during the service prototyping exercise. When some of the members of the team proposed to pick Sound Sketching, my first reaction was that of surprise and concern as I couldnt imagine how wed put it to use. It did however turn out to be an interesting choice and as a team we managed to put the technique to innovative use. I have to admit that if not for the people with a different opinion in the team, Id never have picked Sound-Sketching on my own and would have stuck to something more obvious and conventional. Another instance was while deciding the format of the final presentation where we decided to go with using a very visual approach with minimal text (just keywords).

Thus, I believe in our case, functional diversity actually played a positive role mainly because the team members were open and receptive to different opinions and ideas. Consequently, it is not difficult to imagine that in the absence of such openness and willingness to listen on the part of team members, reaping the benefits of diversity in any team would become very difficult.

Conflicts, criticism and feedback Building Trust and Respect

While it is important, as mentioned above, for teams to be receptive and open and manage conflicts, when they arise, by listening to others, I believe that it is also equally important for the teams success that the members of the team are able to express themselves and share honest feedback and criticism among themselves. In many ways, achieving this balance between receptiveness towards others and personal expressiveness is the key to unlocking the true potential of a diverse team. In my opinion, during the Martela project, one of the few negatives about how we worked as a team was the lack of critical feedback shared within the team. I think that most of the team members (including myself) were too soft and careful about voicing their opinions and contradicting others, perhaps, for the fear of coming across as too rigid and disrespectful. One of the ways to foster this culture of healthy conflict & criticism would be to build trust and respect among the team members over time by both implicit as well as explicit means. For instance, using explicit techniques such as asking one or more team members to wear a Critical hat (one of the Six Thinking Hats in Edward De Bonos ideation technique) can help especially in the beginning of the project. The use of explicit means like these can help create a safe environment where the team members can feely voice their opinions without worrying about hurting someones sensibilities.

Situational Leadership, Delegation & Division of Work

Another interesting aspect of the project teams constituted for the Martela case was the fact that there was no designated project leader. In such a situation, how does one decide on the ownership areas and the division of work within the team? This was again one area where things worked well for our team during the Martela project. Everyone volunteered to take up slices of the work and in most cases, experts were in charge of the tasks pertaining to their areas even as others contributed to them. E.g. the ownership of the poster was with the folks with a design background even though everyone participated in the ideation process. Similarly, during the prototyping exercise, when it was required to use specialized software for mixing and playing sounds simultaneously, the person with technology experience naturally assumed leadership for the moment. Again, while the issues of situational leadership, delegation and division of work went smoothly in our team, I think it is important to be conscious of these while working in a team as problems can potentially arise due to conflicting opinions and / or lack of commitment on the part of one or more members. Overall, working on the Martela project in the diverse team that I was part of, turned out to be quite an enjoyable and learning experience a good preparation, I believe, for what lies ahead in the actual yearlong IDBM project!