Eduation is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire – William Butler Yeats (1865-1934)

Reflection on Van Grinsven, M., Visser, M (2011) Empowerment, knowledge conversion and dimensions of organisational learning. The learning organisation, 18 (5), 378-391

Our current group situation and project progression is to put it lightly, frustrating. There is a lack of everything imaginable. But what there is an abundance of is strong personalities. We don’t have a set group identity at the moment, which writers like Steve Covey, would advocate as essential to an effective group. But what we do have is diversity and a common theme of an interest in business and entrepreneurship to unite us.  As Hills often proposes in her writings about team based learning, it is an appreciation of these differences that is important and a uniting interest and goal that will propel the team.

So as a group of potential entrepreneurs, who are we? Why are we here? What are we working towards? I’ve only recently started to flirt with the idea that I could add “entrepreneurship” to my list of skills and that is only after I have set out an made many mistakes, taken an active interest in it and had several successes in starting things from scratch.  In line with Deakins and Freel’s research and detailed exposition, we do consider entrepreneurs in a certain way, with certain characteristics, whether that is a foolish analysis or not, can be decided at a different point. But we can’t help it, there is an element of idealism. But what I always have assosicated with entrepreneurship, is passion, empowerment, drive and initiative. I do believe entrepreneurs are “special” people, backing up Schumpeter’s analysis of an entrepreneur. But where I differ, with his argument , is that I believe they make themselves special, that have the will and drive to seek out the knowledge and empower themselves. That is what is most striking to me, to find a group of entrepreneurs, without that passion, empowerment, drive and initiative.

Van Grinsven further compounds this, with her article on empowerment and knowledge conversion. Consequently, it isn’t too hard, to reflect on why our team dynamic isn’t working. Van Grinsven (2011) suggests that learning within an organisation or in this case, team needs “structure, delegation and participation in decision making, knowledge transfer and integration, learning climate, managerial leadership and commitment and clarity of vision, mission and purpose”. (397) In summary a healthy learning environment and one that we are all engaged in. The above description is the exact opposite, to what we currently have within our teans. No structure, poor delegation, low participation, no decision making, no group learning, little integration, no leadership, poor commitment, no vision, mission or purpose. I really struggle to work without a vision and without objectives. I’m a pragmatist, I like things to be broken down into practical plans. Regardless of the ethos of who i am working for or the team I am in, that is how I work successfully. Potentially, to address this, I think we should as a group take a step back, why are we hear? What is the point of this group work? I think it is too early to let us go it alone….especially with the lack of above. We simply as Peter Jones puts it frankly, “stagnate”.

Another reflective point from Van Grinsven (2011) is the concept of “learning”. In my head, learning is researching, understanding, practical, experimenting, doing. Van Grinsven describes it as the “detection and correction of error”, which is a very interesting way to describe it and challenges my perception. Learning is not always actively seeking out the new but sometimes it is a natural product of an experience or an experiement. Further more, the definition can be expanded into aspirations of achievements and reality of achievements (Argyris and Schon, 1978). This involves a certain amount of self awareness but also reflection, Hills champions both. We have to be aware of what we want to achieve and we have to then reflect if we achieved. This process within our teams, is sorely missed out hence we are not learning from our mistakes, because we are simply not aware of them. This reflection process, has always been quite difficult, I’ve always been onto the next thing and pushing myself harder, without considering my performance. Moreover, as an introvert, I used to ignore negative feedback and unproductively chew on it. Now, reflection is a crucial part to my day. I’m very stuck in my own thoughts and need to process and reflect before action. Reflection enables me to understand and it enables me to progress. As a group, we need to make time for reflection.

In terms of learning, Van Grinsven (2011) explains that it has two dimensions. Learning intitially within actions, routine, models, norms, policies and then secondly, challenging them, being creative, seeking out new processes. I believe that we need the first, before we can have the second, whether an individual or a group. The first dimension is a building block. But it seems comfortable to me as it is structured. Now why I keep coming back to the structured sense, is not just because i believe we don’t have the dimension within out team, but I believe if we don’t have the igniting factor of the qualities of entrepreneurship, the passion, the drive…..we need (initially) something else. We need guidance and structure. We need to put processes and routines in places, so then we can build on creativity and challenging. At the moment, we try to be creative and without the structure, we get lost in it.

The first crucial factor within entrepreneurship, team work, decision making, learning, is of course empowerment. I was introduced to empowerment within management theory along time ago, through Kanter (1983). What is empowerment to me? Well it is taking control, having the confidence to make decisions, feeling competent, able to step into the unknown……it isn’t “i know how to do this”, it is more “i know I can do this” which then creates a motivation to learn how to do it. Empowerment was so crucial to Enactus Newcastle. The whole concept is based on knowledge transfer, which then can create empowerment. You teach people the skills to do something, you support them to do it and then you let them do it on their own when they feel empowered to. This was a novel concept for me, someone who grew up considering, it was easier in a team, if I just did it. Now, I’m guilty even now of that mind frame, hence in the recent group sustainability project, I drafted the report. It wasn’t until afterwards, I realised….I didn’t explain what I’d done, I didn’t teach them whilst doing it, they haven’t learnt anything (apart from I’m a good team member to come to in a crisis), I didn’t transfer my knowledge into the team. I vow to do this in future. Moreover, I take forgranted that everyone has the same initiative as me. A lot of what I have learnt, I learnt through doing and not having a clue! There are countless times, I’ve sat thinking “gosh…how on earth am I going to do this?!” but as I’ve got older, I’ve felt empowered enough, to know I will do it.

However, whilst I do agree with Van Grinsven (2011) that knowledge can lead to empowerment, I think the individual and team needs to have a drive and motivator. You can hold lots of knowledge and not do anything with it. Empowerment requires ownership not only of the individual’s learning experience but also of the teams. However, Senge (1990) makes a valid triumphant point, everything about what we are currently doing within our team and education is challenging our existing norms and beliefs, which can cause a lose of identity which is key to providing direction. This is completely new, it is hard, challenging and not like anything we have done before. The way I used to be able to interact in my law seminars and lectures, or my work routines and participations, are completely different.  I in a sense feel a bit lost too and not sure how we supposed to acting or what to do to put it right. I don’t feel empowered within group work outside of my own realm. I don’t necessarily feel empowered enough to lead the team.

Van Grinsven (2011) goes on to advance knowledge conversion as another key aspect. As we aren’t reflecting, we aren’t converting that knowledge as a group. We aren’t functioning together, interacting, conversing, making time to meet and so we aren’t bouncing off each other. We don’t really know each other and what our strengths are. Levitt and March (1988) argue about the competency trap and I do think that might be a future issue for us. I have the feeling, whatever works for us, we will hold onto for dear life and just repeat. Potentially for ease, lack of motivation and lack of ability to utilise the ability to exploit and explore (Levinthal and March 1993).

Consquently, in review I consider empowerment a crucial factor to our success. We are gradually learning and converting knowledge, whether the whole group is aware of it or not, but as each task goes by, I can see a greater progression of team awareness. I can see how I am interacting within the group, my role and my habits; the awareness we are gaining is crucial to our long term success and will hopefully make us into a better team. So whilst we may be flagging, I consider we are actually learning more in the process, well I certainly am. Each task we have done, I am taking something forward into the next one. So whilst the knowledge conversion will come, I’ m unsure whether the empowerment will. Whilst I feel very empowered in my own learning, I don’t necessarily feel empowered within the entrepreneural team. But I’m still full of motivation and drive, as always.


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