Team learning contract v team culture in business

Stating

The development of our new team learning contract symbolically represented the concrete beginnings of our new team. It was an opportunity to reflect on the old, decide where our new group wanted to go and an opportunity to consider strategically in the short term, what exactly we need to learn as a team and where our learning gaps are. Drafting a team learning contract provided us with the opportunity to learn and to consider our business learning needs; a call to learning action and a new beginning. However, what could have been a positive process was intensely difficult.

As a team we really fought against a process that forced us to sit down and plan, considering deeper learning needs of our team and pin pointing them. There was a significant lack of motivation surrounding completing it and many voiced their concerns of it being too restrictive. As a collective, we fought against thinking about the things we might need to learn, preferring to just get out there and doing it. There were significant feelings of frustration and demotivation surrounding this activity.

Whilst the process was very slow, it forced us to strategically consider ways of how we could tackle the low motivation and to ensure that this painful process, really did add learning value in our team.  The contract our team submitted was something that everyone agreed on, contributed to and saw value in for our business. We made our contract a mixture of group learning objectives that were directly focused on starting up our business and several individual goals that the team would buy into sharing out the skill sets within the team and spreading out the learning within the team alongside learning from others in the team. However, after the team contract completion, there was disengagement within the group regarding the contract’s implementation. The old lack of motivation appeared and by some members, it was disregarded.  This is suggestive that the creation of a learning contract within a team alone is not enough to absorb the value from it and that something else must support it, in order to encourage execution.

Deconstruction

A learning contract is a leading learning tool that provides direction and offers a “flexible, individualised programme of learning (Gower 1998:1).” The learning contract undeniably has potential as a tool to plan learning, but when motivation to complete one is low and the focus is entirely on its completion, instead of its value, does it serve a purpose for our team? We were introduced to a structured template, in which we had to structure our future learning and objectives. The different elements of self-awareness in regards to personal skill sets and team competencies caused an issue in terms of identifying areas we needed to work on. Moreover, the level of imposition on the team and the prescribed, structured nature of it seemed to alienate many within the team. It was uncomfortably forcing the group to sit down as a collective and plan our learning, rather than just getting out there and doing it.

Our first draft was basic, completed quickly and was incredibly superficial. Moreover, it was completely action orientated, based on quick, tangible results above contemplating any learning to go behind them. Our contract also didn’t consider what the impact of completing the objectives would mean within the team and how we could use our learning strategically to strengthen the team. Our action orientation, within a group strongly led by activists, was not a surprise and is representative of our current team culture. Reflecting on this action orientation approach within the group, this was clearly an underlying issue; as a team, we had an action focused, quick results culture. Considering an intangible like learning in a long term sense, did not fit into our culture. Our culture is to complete the tasks and perform well, any learning is incidental and rarely reflected on as a group.

The beginning of our second draft, began with two questions; 1. What do we need/want to do? 2. What do we need to learn in order to fulfil those objectives? We selected two objectives that we wanted to complete as a collective, which would have direct impact onto our business planning, bringing about tangible benefits alongside learning. Secondly, we picked out areas that individuals would like to work on for the benefit of the team, e.g. pitching and how this learning would be brought back into the team and utilised effectively. Our overall goal was to build a stronger team, one that learned from each other and built learning into enhancing our performances.

Conversely, even this team contract remained very action orientated, but it was a compromise within our current culture. In order to get any engagement we had to build in results to complete the task. The learning within our contract, although more a dominant factor than our first draft, was still very much secondary. The lack of motivation concerning imbedding learning into our teams and our process towards the learning contract, evidenced how we viewed the learning process within our team and our team culture Consequently, whilst we have completed our team contract, it remains action orientated and the planned learning elements make implementation difficult.

Theorising

A learning contract can only be effective where the learner plays a “leading role” in its development; as such it is an active process (Gower 1998:5). Whilst in theory, it promotes independent learning and an increase in group skill awareness, its functionality, practicality and value lies within the attitude and commitment of the learners to the process and the team’s culture in which it exists (Gower 1998). Each individual involved needs to not only see the team value but the individual relevance to their learning (Knowles 1986). Moreover, as a team learning contract consists of different people, it needs to embody different learning styles, action and paces of learning; it should be a challenge to the team and the individual (Knowles 1986).

Furthermore, a learning contract is only as viable as the context in which it is expected to function within. An action orientated organisation, unaware of its learning needs, will be unable to see the value of a learning contract, as they are unaware of the need to learn and planning learning distracts from the action orientation and feels like stagnating (Gower 1998). Consequently, the contract in isolation is ineffective, it is about imbedding the process of learning into the team, embracing all the mediums our team members learn by (Pedler et al). As such the contract alone should only direct learning to reach specific objectives, there must be a willingness to learn and to try, in the first place; the awareness of the need to improve must exist (Hills 2001). Therefore, creating a learning team culture is potentially crucial to imbed learning within the team and encourage it as an active process.

Team culture is defined as cultivated and developed “norms” within a team and can be utilised as a competitive advantage against competitors (Hills 2001). A learning team culture is “a wish to increase independence rather than a desire to please” and one that “values being willing more than being capable” (Hills 2001:55). It signifies a desire for improvement and a learning contract sets out the means in which such improvement can take place (Gower 1998). Moreover, a learning team in the long term is one that has higher performance levels and remains in a state of constant evolution (Gower 1998).

Therefore our success in the long term is reliant on exploring and developing a team learning culture in which a learning contract could add value within our team, moving away from our action orientation and creating a learning environment. Cottrell (2011) highlights the key aspects of any learning team is one that encourages, collaborates, challenges, co-operates and critically analyses itself. She points to changing the culture into one that learns by doing from its own experience, one that stimulates thinking, accepts that people learn in a variety of ways and one that is internally motivated to learn from within the team.

Regardless of our action orientation, of team culture has developed markedly, changing from what was once a highly procedural team into a conceptual team that values not only what members do within the team but the intangibles they bring as a contribution (Hills 2001), consequently as a team we are capable of progress and change. More than ever, we are willing to explore ideas, learn from our peers and we are increasingly growing in independence. However, as a group we still focus on a power driven culture that seeks results and action, learning has to have an immediate tangible purpose (Hills 2001).

Consequently, our team learning contract exists within a team that currently doesn’t have a team learning culture, a compromise between action and learning; a learning contract alongside a strategic plan of action. This avoids the two problems that Revans (1980) highlights as endangering teams without a learning culture, task fixation and a lack of awareness of team learning needs. By combining the strategic planning process alongside the development of a learning contract, the team is able to construct a plan of what needs to be actively done to complete an objective and the learning contract, enables the team to consider what they need to learn and how they are going to learn it, in order to start implementing the strategic plan.

Within the team contract differing levels of awareness and competencies can be an undermining issue (Gower 1998). Gower (1998:26) highlights a competency awareness model which sees the learner to label their competences as an unconscious competence, conscious competence, conscious incompetence, or unconscious incompetence. Consequently, the team learning element adds an extra dimension, as a supportive factor and learning tool in which, unconscious elements can be identified and exploited as learning opportunities through a feedback process to the benefit of the team and the individual.

Considering current motivation within the team as a collective to change our team culture into a learning one, McGregor’s motivational theory is worth exploring. Potentially as a group, we have moved past the theory X stage and we are no longer looking for someone to prescribe what to do and sometimes we even rebel away from prescription, like with the learning contract; consequently we are no longer motivated by being told what to do (McGregor 1960). But theory Y doesn’t quite apply to us yet, because we’re not self-directed and open in our learning to actively seek out learning opportunities (McGregor 1960). Hence we fall in the middle and tasks that the group isn’t interested there is a lack of motivation within.

Constructing

Consequently, whilst our team learning contract is viable, there is a questionable element about the motivation to follow it through. The team learning contract will only add value as a tool, if we make a conscious effort to imbed learning into our team’s culture and lessen our action orientation; creating a learning culture. As such we need to slow down and reflect on our learning needs, creating a safe environment in which we support each other to grow and make mistakes (Hills 2001). Changing our culture is about changing our results driven mind-set and developing a culture in which our learning contracts don’t impose learning on to us, but help direct our already active learning process.  As such, we must equally take action, to change our attitudes in the team.

Cottrell, S. (2008). The Study Skills Handbook. (3rd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gower, GB. (1998) A Complete Guide to Learning Contracts. Hampshire: Gower Publishing

Hills, H. (2001) Team-Based Learning, Hampshire: Gower Publishing.

Knowles, M. (1986) Principles of Learning : Learning Contracts. San Francisco: Jossey Bass

McGregor, D (1960) The Human Side to Enterprise. USA: McGraw Hill

Pedler et al. (1991) The Learning Company. Maiden Head: McGraw Hill

Revans et al (1980) Action Learning. London: Blonde and Briggs

Interview with Jules Quinn, founder of the *Teashed and entrepreneur

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The *Teashed – Jules Quinn

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Check out the *Teashed here.

1. What is the Teashed mission statement?
To take over the world, one teabag at a time.

2. What is your mission within that?
To be the UK’s leading speciality tea brand, bringing new ideas and concepts to the way we drink tea.

3. How would you define your product/service?
Quality, convenient and fun tea

4. How did the idea for the Teashed come about?
I was on a work placement making lots of cups of tea for a designer. I didn’t drink tea, but he used to send me out to purchase speciality tea. I realised that whilst there are lots of coffee options, there wasn’t fashionable, experimental tea.

5. How long did it take to realise?
It was about 1 year in development.

6. Did it organically come into being or was there a structured process to get from A to B?
I had a structured, researched business plan. I knew what I wanted to achieve from the beginning. My business plan has obviously changed as the business has progressed, many things I included within my business plan initially didn’t work out.

7. When was the moment you actually thought “hang on, there could be a business here!?” When John Lewis got in touch and they wanted to purchase an order. Before that moment, it had all been theoretical.

8. Why do you think the Teashed has been such a success so far?
Low overheads and minimal start-up costs. The business was able to growth as it needed to and wasn’t limited by needing large investment.

9. Do you do any market research before setting up the business to suss out your audience? Yes lots and lots. I needed to really consider who my target market was and prove that just because I thought it was a good idea, that it actually was a good idea.

10. Who is your audience?
25-35 year olds mainly

11. What are your expectations of the company within the next 18months?
Growth, international growth, new products, greater awareness of the brand; I want to rapidly growth the business and I have a plan to do so.

12. What would you do with unlimited resources?
Build a warehouse and pay for more advertising. At this stage of my business, I’m reliant on the advertising channels that I know and I can utilise.

13. What are the short term plans? What are the long term plans?
In the short term, I want to grow the business as large as possible. In the long term, I want to sell the business.

14. Do you have an exit strategy?
Not yet. I know I want to sell but I haven’t decided exactly when that will be. Nor have I developed the business enough to just hand it over, I’m putting structures in place now as I develop it, so it isn’t so owner dependent.

15. If you were starting again, would you do anything differently? If so, what?
I would not tie up so much money in products rather buy less at a more expensive price, rather than lots at a cheaper. I would have been able to sniff out what was selling, instead of ending up with too much of one and others selling out.

16. How much time do you spend working on the business in an average week?
48 hrs, often more.

17. Have you sacrificed anything for its success?
My social life/ being young. I spend every opportunity and moment I can working on the business. This means I don’t have the same free time as my friends as I’m busy building my business. But it is not just my business, my job, it is also my passion and hobby.

18. Have you acquired investment to expand or what is your funding strategy?
Not yet…I’m still considering my options and the best way to expand.

19. Your website is fantastic, were you ever dwarfed by the tech side?
No not really, you just tell the tech guys what they need to do. The key is knowing exactly what you want the website to do and how you’d like it to function. You need to know more than, “I just want a website”. Draw it out and remember once you have people on your site, what do you want them to do when they are there.

20. It is a busy market place with the likes of Charbew, etc…. What did you do to get noticed? Cool packaging, developing a brand, events, not worrying too much about other people and just doing your own thing. I really focused on getting the right branding and utilising the names, making sure that was right. It worked!

21. What is a typical day for you? Where does the Teashed fit in?
Wake up 7am. Check international emails straight away whilst having a cup of tea. Shower, get dressed. Then either spend the day working away at my desk, sorting orders or going to meetings.

22. What is an entrepreneur? How would you describe one?
Someone who isn’t afraid to sacrifice in the short term to gain in the long term. Someone who is not afraid of hard work and someone who is not afraid.

23. Would you define yourself as an entrepreneur? Or how would you define yourself?
No, I would just say I have my own business.

24. Which entrepreneurs/business people do you most admire?
Any woman in business. I love a bit of girl power!

25. Do you think anyone can start up a business?
Yes, if they have the right attributes. It takes a certain type of person with a certain type of skills and the ambition to do it.

26. Do you think some people are just born natural business people? Or do you think it can be learnt from experience/education?
No one is born knowing how to run a business; you learn those skills over time. But if you have inside you what it takes to run a business as that is your personality and that is quite hard to change. Some people are more enterprising than others and see opportunities.

27. You’re from a fashion marketing degree , what extent was your knowledge of business and entrepreneurship before the Teashed?
I have done little businesses since I was 14. Each one felt like a little practice for the Teashed.

28. What area of business do you struggle with the most?
Numbers, but they are a necessity, especially in the beginning, monitoring your business and growing it.

29. What inspires you? Motivates you?
To not have to work for anyone else and doing it on my own terms, my way.

30. Describe yourself in three words?
Business focused, happy and fun

31. What is success?
Being happy within your current position or seeing the path ahead of you as achievable.

32. Low point?
Loosing stockists and managing effective relationship with so many other demands on the business.

33. What excites you?
My vision of Tea

34. What are you most nervous about for the future?
Growing the business and losing control of it.

35. You work alone without a business partner…how do you find this? Do you have a network?
Yes, I pay for all the support I need as and when I need it. This works great for me. I think I would struggle to find anyone who has the same level of commitment and dedication who also shares my vision, so giving away shares wouldn’t work.

36. As a business person, what would you say your ideals are?
Work hard but be nice.

37. Do you think there is a successful pattern to becoming an entrepreneur?
Work hard, day and night. Never give up! Take knock backs as an inevitable learning exercise that is strengthening your business.

38. Before the Teashed, what were your career aspirations? In the long term, what are they now?
To have my own business, I just wasn’t sure what it would look like. In the long term, to carry this on and grow it, then start again.

39. What do you attribute all your personal successes to?
Hard work and family support.

40. What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
Weakness – numbers and Excel and strength – product development an design.

41. What set you apart from other students that made you take the entrepreneurial risk?
I only ever wanted to run my own business, so I knew I’d do it, just wasn’t sure when.

Where are all the women in the FTSE boardrooms?

The question of why there is a distinct lack of females invading British boardrooms has been a question that many enterprise minded individuals have asked for years (Brown et al 2002). The appointment of BT Group’s Liv Garfield  as the new boss of the water company Severn Trent (Monaghan and Goodley 2013), superficially seems to highlight the change in ethos within business for women. In nearly three years, we’ve seen the business world change from 12.5% of women holding seats in boardrooms of the UK’s largest firms with 21 all male boards and the movement in 2013 to 19% of FTSE boardrooms now being female and only five all male boards (Monaghan and Goodley 2013). This is a huge step forward from 2004 in which only 9.4% of boardrooms were made up of women (Davies 2011).

Consequently, with the appointments of Carolyn McCall at easy Jet, Angela Ahrendts at Burberry and Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco, it could be suggested that women no longer have a barrier stopping them entering the boardroom (Monaghan and Goodley 2013). But the “one in one out” approach and the very slow progression (Monaghan and Goodley 2013), suggests that although corporations have changed their gender biased ways, many women are choosing to opt out of career advancement causing a lack of women in senior positions, slowing the rate of increase of the proportion of women within the boardroom (Davies 2011). This argument is furthered by Germany’s move to impose quotas on the amount of women that have to sit on their boards, as a means of bringing about radical change, ignoring societal reasons behind the pool of women progressing into the boardroom (Monaghan and Goodley 2013). Moreover, such an act undermines the pursuit of performance and quality talent within the business, forcing succession and recruitment choices from a smaller talent pool simply “to make up the numbers” lessens the hard fought battle for female equality within the workplace (Monaghan and Goodley 2013). Promotions should be earned and the business board should be made up of the right people based on their talents, experience, knowledge and competencies; gender to any extent should be irrelevant, consequently introducing quotas only strengthens the gender divide and promotes that women should be considered differently (Morrissey 2013).

Conversely if the make-up of the boardroom is to truly change sustainably and the process is to be sped up, we need to fully understand why women opt out and the factors surrounding their decision process to do so (Morrissey 2013). With very talented, competent women now progressing up to the top ranks of businesses, it could be concluded that corporations are not estopping women directly and that women, if they want to, have the drive and are talented enough to progress at the same speed as their male counterparts; the top floor of corporations are now open to women and advancement is not just possible but achievable (Morrissey 2013). Consequently, If it is not the corporations themselves stopping women progressing up the corporate ladder, then understanding the absence of equal representation within the boardroom, starts with understanding why talented women opt out and who these “lost women” are (Morrissey 2013).

As such, we need to look to the women themselves and look at their career journey and choices. The starting point of any discussion should be one that considers that male and female graduate entry into the workforce, in the UK, is relatively equal and this equality is maintained until senior management level, where women fall away (Davies 2011). The progression from graduate level, into junior management and then middle management is an equally linear timeline for men and women where they progress almost proportionately side by side; the average age of initial entry into senior management is 28years old, which is the same age that shows huge proportions of women opting out at this level or remaining within middle management for a lengthy extended time in their career (Davis 2011). Consequently, the “danger-zone” for women’s career path to stagnate has been identified as the period between 28-40years old; within this period women are less economically active, fail to progress, completely opt out of employment and take several career breaks (Morrissey 2013).

If we assume the corporation remains static and equal with its treatment of men and women, then deductively women are doing something or behaving in a different way to their male counterparts (Davies 2011). As such it is interesting to note that the average age of a first time mother giving birth in the UK is 28.1years old (ONS 2013); the same age the average UK employee sees their career take off into senior management is also the same age women drop out of the workplace indefinitely or temporarily to become first time mothers (Morrissey 2013). Deductively, there is an impasse that leads to the fair conclusion that women do not progress at the same level as their male counterparts because they have children (Morrissey 2013). There are two core strands to this impasse that this article will present, women are absent from our boardrooms because females are presented with the societal pressure that a woman can’t pursue her career and have children and that the corporate system, due to its competitiveness and performance driven ethos, is not designed to accommodate women who wish to continue pursuing their career but desire flexibility and have the added priority of their children.

The crux of the problem, is no longer the soul fault of the male biased, corporate system, which it was decades ago; success and advancement is open to any talented individual, irrespective of gender, who wants to play and commits to the “corporate game” (Morrissey 2013). However, this female empowerment and the freedom to progress up the corporate ladder, falls in direct conflict with the choice to have a child and the societal pressure women feel to prioritise their external family responsibilities above their career (Morrissey 2013).Women are brought up with the reinforced stereotype of the women who leaves her job to have a child or the woman, whose returns to work after having a child, with a change in her priorities (Morrissey 2013). This societal stereotype of the “good mother” who sacrifices her career to concentrate on her children is an accepted stereotype that feeds into our societal child centeredness and is one that is outside the control of the business world.

Women who do choose to go back into their high powered jobs, report feelings of extreme guilt for missing out on their child’s younger years and are perceived as wrongly advancing their career at the expense of the child (Mckinsey & Co 2007).  Any successful women, who has had children and achieved seniority in her career at the same time, is hailed as a rare exception and a superhero women who has achieved the impossible (Mckinsey & Co 2007). Consequently this societal pressure to choose between having a child or further your career, with many women choosing to have children, businesses face a lack of supply of women climbing up the corporate ladder into corporate management, as women tail off pursuing their family agendas; many women make the considered choice not to pursue the top roles and have a family instead (Morrissey 2013). Our society puts pressure on women to make the choice between her career and having a family (Brown et al 2002).

However, it is not just the choice to have children that automatically excludes women from the boardroom, it is the fact that on a practical level it is hard to be a mother who is focused on her child and simultaneously
focused on achieving the corporate heavy weight level, never mind sustain it into the long term; hence many corporate heavy weight women achieve the top level and then chose to opt out to have children, just at a later date (Mckinsey & Co 2007). Corporate progression requires hard work, sacrifice and ambition; the very top of organisations require lengthy hours, focus and for many, the job becomes is their lives; the practicalities of having children does not fit in with this pursuit (Morrissey 2013). Women, who chose to have children, can’t effectively pursue this lifestyle without neglecting and sacrificing the time spent with their children, relying on a strong extended support network and being judged by society, as a mother pursing her career at the expense of her child, regardless of the lifestyle or financial benefits (Morrissey 2013). It is only with the right support network and partner support that women can expect to have children and pursue the corporate dream, a resource that isn’t available to all mothers.

Feminists would advance the question, why should women automatically sacrifice their careers and not the men? Again this is a choice that is open to all families, men are just as entitled to focus on the children and allow their wives to reach for their careers. Such a decision will advance the career of a woman and will rising opt out figures for men (Mckinsey & Co 2007) But whilst this remains a choice and feminists can argue that men “should” do this more, many women once their baby is born, would prefer to be the one to stay home and look after the child, after all they carried it and bonded with it for 9months (Davies 2011). Moreover, women are presented with the societal norm that women should be the ones to play the dominant role in children’s early life; this is a deep rooted norm and societal expectation placed on women (Davies 2011). Furthermore, statutory law remains in favour of women taking extended maternity level and has only recently extended paternity leave for Fathers; the legal system is structure so the woman can take a career break to look after the child, not the man (Davies 2011). Moreover, the unavoidable truth is that, currently within our society, biologically females have children; as such this brings about unavoidable absences from work that men can’t compensate for.

Businesses from the beginning have to be adaptable and respond to the needs of the business. The call for a more flexible, child friendly, corporate working environment, whilst admirable, is unrealistic and uncompetitive economically (Davies 2011). That is not the nature of successful, competitive advantage driven corporate work that requires an extreme commitment to the job, a commitment that women with competing priorities cannot achieve (Davies2011).  A work place that suits mothers is not one that is productivity and profitability focused or one that is built on a lean economically viable structure. As such, these women are more suited to lower level management positions, in which a more flexible work structure can be offered and in which both competing priorities can be satisfied. Moreover, this point is further advanced, with the appearance of women within the public sector and teaching; a working environment that accommodates the working mum (Mckinsey & Co 2007).  Consequently the current corporate model, based on performance and 24hour availability forces women to either choose between their career or to have children, inevitably leading to many women opting out due to their life choice to have a baby (Mckinsey & Co. 2007).

The pursuit of equality within the boardroom, embodies the ideal that all people are treated the same (Morrissey 2013). Many advocate a change in the corporate system, one that allows working mothers to progress (Davies 2011), but encouraging women into the boardroom should not involve a relaxation of the rules and processes within an organisation in favour of women and women with children; this change threatens equality in the workplace and puts an onerous burden onto the organisation within a challenging climate (Morrissey 2013). The corporate model is no longer “male dominated” which many suggests remains an issue (Mckinsey & Co. 2007), the model simply focuses on productivity and profitability with the same opportunities available for all, women make the choice to have children and prioritise them (Morrissey 2013). They can equally chose not to have children and pursue their careers, furthermore they can also have children and pursue their career simultaneously, but inevitably only one can be the top priority (Mckinsey & Co. 2007).  This reality is one of compromise which fails on both counts and one which is a “double burden” of corporate responsibility alongside parental responsibility (Mckinsey & Co. 2007). But the reality of the situation is that women do have a choice and they control their career destination.

Once a woman decides to have a child, this decision has a direct impact on her career advancement speed. In a world where the business never sleeps, the very nature of maternity leave gives a woman a career break, which removes them from the organisation temporarily. These breaks are not taken by men, who remain able to pursue their career uninterrupted. These breaks mean women no longer can keep up to speed with the organisation, they miss out because they are physically not there, this gives men the competitive edge, to advance further through the organisation in a shorter space of time, irrespective of a woman’s competencies or skill sets; the business will not wait for her to return. Moreover, the time away from work gives many women an opportunity to re-evaluate their priorities and consider what is best for the their child/children; often putting a child first means having a job, that fits in with their needs and requirements until they are older, consequently they drop out of the rat race (Mckinsey & Co 2002).

Many theorists have purported other contributory factors to explain the impasse and absence of women within the UK boardrooms. As such, there is a view that women are simply less ambitious than men, they want more to life than their careers and they tend to undervalue their own skill sets (Trevelyan 2008). Arguably it is possible that women undervalue their skills and advance a different set of behaviour traits that make them vulnerable to missing out and being overlooked for progression (Davies 2011). However, such a view undervalues women from the very starting point and views them as shrinking violets that are unaware of their potential and need assistance to be recognised. The stereotype of the overconfident male and the women oblivious of her strengths (Trevelyan 2008) is an outdated sexist, overly simplistic starting point.

Whilst this contributory factor is plausible, it advances that the fault lies with the women, as women remain in control of this factor of their own self-confidence and personal promotion; this is something that can be changed and consequently, efforts should be concentrated on empowering women and introducing strong female corporate stereotypes (Davies 2011). In order, for women to believe they can be strong corporate figures, we need strong female role models across a variety of disciplines and occupations. Not only do we lack a large bank of female role models, but women grow up with the stereotype and societal norm of the typical woman who leaves her job in order to look after her child or a woman that returns to work, with adjusted priorities to provide for the child (Davies 2011). Consequently, female empowering can only take us so far; women within corporations face practical choices and societal pressures that men, do not. They have a choice between continuously advancing their career like the male counterparts or stepping off the corporate wheel temporarily or permanently and having a child (Mckinsey & Co 2002). However, it should be remembered, they have a choice, they chose to have a child and stop focusing on their career.

It remains easy to get caught in the argument surrounding why there is a lack of female board-members within corporations and the difficult social questions it highlights. However, as a society we also need to understand the indisputable value of women within the corporate work place, women should not just be viewed as future mothers, they can also be corporate heavy weights if they chose to be (Davies 2011). Unlike Germany, it should not be about achieving quotas, simply for numbers sake, it should be about fully understanding why we need more women at the highest level of corporations and the benefits they can our businesses offer; their value and their worth.

Lord Davies’s 2011 report highlights a long list of influential reasons, why women are not just invaluable in the work place but a crucial element of the most profitable and productive organisations in existence. A male dominated business environment lacks diversity, a key element to any successful, functioning team (Hills 2001). Women bring a different skill set and one that off sets, a stereotypical, overconfident businessman (Trevelyan 2008). Gender balanced boards are more likely to identify criteria for measuring strategy, monitor its implementation, follow conflict of interest guidelines ensure better communication and focus on additional nonfinancial performance measures, such as employee and customer satisfaction, diversity and corporate social responsibility; the symbiotic nature within the differences between men and women when exploited together are key elements to business performance (Brown et al 2002). Moreover, women enhance performance within corporations when compared to organisations that lack in female representation (McKinsey & Company, 2007).

The merit within the need for both men and women within the boardroom is they both compliment and challenge each other; one gender isn’t better than the other, they are just different (McKinsey & Company, 2007). Moreover, with women making up 6/10 top graduates, 51% of the UK population/consumer, 46% of the economically active workforce and responsible for 70% of household purchasing decisions and holding half of the UK’s wealth (Davies 2011), they are not a demographic that should remain misunderstood, constrained within society and disengaged. As such, their absence in the boardroom and the talent pool gap of women in senior management shouldn’t just be a business concern, but a societal concern. Consequently, the goal shouldn’t be to make it easier for women to progress and treat them differently; it is to understand why women stop progressing up the corporate ladder first and why women prioritise children over their careers, in a way men do not (Morrissey 2013).

Once a true understanding is reached, then businesses can focus on strategically tapping into the under-utilised pool of female talent, opening up the gates into board level by working to change the societal strain on women and to expand the stereotypical female aspiration, beyond having children and giving up their careers, “to remain competitive and respond to rapidly changing expectations and market demands” (Davises 2011). Once females progress into the board room, we should see greater diversity, not only enhancing performance but encouraging a better understanding of the female consumer, with a more effective exploitation of the demographic (Davies 2011).

Consequently, if we accept that women are faced with the choice between their career and children, it must be acknowledged that although this is an undeniable barrier, it also is factually a choice; women chose to have children and to step off the corporate ladder. They have the choice and the same opportunities available to them as their male counterparts before that point (Davies 2011). Focusing just on changing the practices of business, in order to encourage women to not only have children and to advance their career at the same time neglects the societal expectation of women as a good mother; corporate changes need to occur alongside, a change in the society(Davies 2011).

Thus Helena Morrissey, a champion of women in the boardroom, has expanded her 30% campaign, campaigning for 30% of individuals at the top of corporations to be women, into the “opportunity now campaign”, a research study that is focused not on business practices, but on understanding women’s intangible feelings within the workplace and their beliefs around their career and children (Morrissey 2013). Such a study should prove that whilst businesses have embraced equality in how they treat and recruit men and women; societal expectations and the corporate machine rarely allows women to have children and reach the boardroom. Once we understand these pressures, changing the make-up of the board room will involve challenging societal norms. Furthermore, it will require a shift in women’s priorities to value their careers equally or more so, than having children; a process which is out of the control of the corporations (Morrissey 2013).

Brown, D., Brown, D. and Anastasopoulos, V. (2002)’ Women on Boards: Not just the Right Thing . . . But the “Bright” Thing, Report. 341-02: The Conference Board of Canada, Ottawa.

Davies, M. (2011). ‘Women on Boards – Government Report’, Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/31480/11-745-women-on-boards.pdf (Accessed: 23rd November 2013)

Hills, H. 2001. Team-Based Learning, Hampshire: Gower Publishing.

Mckinsey & Co. (2007) ‘Women Matter’ , Available at http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDkQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mckinsey.com%2F~%2Fmedia%2Fmckinsey%2Fdotcom%2Fclient_service%2Forganization%2Fpdfs%2Fwomen_matter_oct2007_english.ashx&ei=pbGUUt-QDMKYyAP0-YDIDw&usg=AFQjCNHpmrgClYnYyWzgX-Tjqym6bBnH2A (Accessed: 26th November 2013)

Monaghan, A and Goodley, S. (2013) ‘Liv Garfield joins small team of women running blue chip businesses’ Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/nov/18/liv-garfield-bt-severn-trent (Accessed 23rd November 2013)

Morrissey, H. (2013) ‘Finally, let’s hear the truth about our top women’ Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/10454697/Helena-Morrissey-Finally-lets-hear-the-truth-about-our-top-women.html (Accessed 23rd November 2013).

Office of National Statistics. (2013) Live Births As Characterised by Mother. Available at: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_330664.pdf (Accessed: 10th October)

Trevelyan, R. (2008) ‘Optimism, overconfidence and entrepreneurial activity’, Management Decision, (46) 7

Corporate Psychopaths, did they cause the financial crisis? – a critical look at Boddy’s 2011 Corporate Psychopath Theory

Boddy article can be retrieved here: http://www.slideshare.net/UnitB166ER/the-corporate-psychopaths-theory-of-the-global-financial-crisis-by-clive-r-boddy

The financial crisis of the last decade remains an area of academic significance. Academics, professionals and the media play the blame game in order to seek out a deeper understanding of why the crisis occurred and exactly who was responsible (Babiak and Hare 2011, Boddy 2011, Ronson 2011). Whilst there have been many theories as to why the crisis occurred, it is universally accepted that a combination of consumer credit lifestyle and irresponsible behaviour by the banks, played a larger part (Ronson 2011). Boddy in his 2011 article ‘the corporate psychopaths theory of the global financial crisis’,  takes this blame game one step further and purports the concept of the corporate psychopath as a factor that not only contributed to the crisis but was entirely responsible. His 2011 article and pre-crisis articles explore the ‘corporate psychopath theory’, linking the notion of the psychopathic personality causing havoc and destruction within the financial sector.

Boddy is not the first to explore and develop this idea, other academics have alluded and touched on this concept far before the financial crisis (Hare 1999), but Boddy is the first one to expound it into a theory (2011). His main line of argument within his article is that due to the nature of the financial service, psychopaths are attracted into the industry and flourish. These “malevolent” beings (2011:256) are consequently able to destroy the organisation from within, due to their lack of morality and tunnel vision pursuit of profit. The key driving factor to this article is that Boddy’s argument and concept is plausible; corporate psychopaths may exist and may have indeed contributed to the crisis. However, his article is fatally flawed due to his questionable reasoning that enables him to get to his conclusion.

Firstly, his view of the financial industry from the past is idealised. He views that managers within the industry worked “selflessly” and entirely for the organisation’s benefit (2011:255), completely disregarding the fact that people are motivated at work for a variety of reasons and there are many motivational theories that advance this; disregarding the self in favour for the organisation is a form of a corporate sacrifice and is unlikely to motivate long term (Ronson 2011). He furthers this point but considering that these “imposters” are responsible for the loss of “nobless oblige, equality and fairness” (2011:257) that preceded the crisis. The reader is left questioning if these core ideals were ever a part of the banking industry, one that is based on maximising and exploiting credit as a consumer product. Furthermore, within such an idealised view of the industry, it is further questionable how such an infiltration of such “evil” people could remain unnoticed and unchallenged. Consequently, the banking industry as fair and ethical, until infected and disrupted by corporate psychopaths (Boddy 2011), is an unlikely starting point.

Secondly, Boddy fails to give the reader a definition of a psychopath within the corporate working place. Instead he takes the established medical view of a psychopath with their characteristics and makes assumptions of how they “could” affect the work place and what may happen. He fails to support his reasoning with a research study within the industry, any identification of psychopaths or specific personality traits; he fails to create a corporate psychopath profile built on evidence. The reader is forced to make the logical conclusion based on their own established perception of what a psychopath is and what the impact could be of such people existing within corporations. This conclusion that a psychopath within a corporation could cause untold told demand is logical but when further explored, the evidence backing the existence of such a being is lacking.  Moreover, any research he does present is either his own, making the study biased or are from “experts” and undisclosed studies, making them unreliable and seemingly biased. Consequently, the reader is left questioning his agenda for pursuing and developing this theory. The end of the article serves to reveal this agenda; he developed this theory before the financial crisis and is seemingly using the crisis as a platform of evidence to back his theory and his concept of the corporate psychopath.

Moreover, he persuades the reader to believe his theory through emotive words which are highly charged. He refers to them as “malevolent, “defective” and “egotistical” (2011:257), but he does not provide evidence to support these broad character traits. Furthermore, he points to the pursuit of an individual’s personal development aims and ability to manipulate to achieve them (Babiak and Hare, 2006) as a being psychopath specific, when in reality these broad traits and abilities are not essentially a sign of mental illness and is misleading. It could be suggested that all successful people manipulate and pursue their own aims, but this doesn’t characterise them as evil.

Consequently, his argument becomes an exploration of different personality types in regards to success. He is exploring why certain people are able to remain unemotionally uninvolved and pursue success to the end. This is a key area of research in terms of why some people are successful and some people are not (Ronson 2011). However, Boddy hones in on the emotionless factor and the ability to act without conscience as the core corporate psychopath trait; the banker’s ability to have lost millions of people’s money and walk away seemingly unaffected. However he fails to acknowledge that the corporate banking industry is built and moulded around high risk activity. Moreover, corporations are multi-layered organisation and in order to invest and work effectively, there has to be an element of dehumanisation. If a banker worried about what his investment might do to a specific family, then he wouldn’t be able to work effectively within the organisation. Consequently, it is this ability to dehumanise and take risks that make them successful bankers which applauded when things go right which they did for many years, so surely when things go wrong, this should be accepted as an inevitable part of the game.

Moreover he fails to consider that these bankers when successful, are hailed as success stories and shining lights. For years, the top executives were untouchable. It hasn’t been until things unravelled and went wrong, that the media and public began to question them and there has been an element of victimisation (Ronson 2011). Consequently, his view is completely unbalanced and his agenda is to blame and prove his theory, not to effectively research the real reasons behind the crisis. Furthermore, he makes the assumption that these people “display several traits” of a psychopath (2011:256), which implicitly communicates to the reader, that they don’t display all the traits of a psychopath and therefore by medical definition, they aren’t a psychopath. Psychopaths are only medically termed a psychopath when they go through official testing and the “psychopath test”, therefore Boddy’s theory can only be speculation until there is an official diagnosis of a corporate one (Ronson 2011).

Conveniently, Boddy’s “Corporate psychopath” theory allows the banking industry to create an invisible scape goat. He points to an undisclosed, unidentified, unnoticed sector of people within the formally “ethical” banking industry. Consequently due to their ability to remain a secret, makes their identification to prove his theory impossible and can only ever be speculative. This theory allows the banking industry, its structure, ethos and make up to be completely absolved of blame; applying his theory the industry is powerless to the infection of the corporate psychopath and their internal destruction.  Therefore, removing responsibility completely from the industry and placing it back onto the individual for their actions, fails to acknowledge the industries inherent ethos, which is accepted as a significant factor within the financial crisis (Ronson 2011). Moreover, it paints an industry that is at the mercy of the individual’s actions and motives, which is very questionable due to its power and the UK’s government’s inability to fully, sanction and control their actions; the banks as corporations are indisputably globally powerful (Ronson 2011).

Thus, Boddy’s article should be approached with an open mind as it does provide a concept that is worthy of consideration and further research. However, until further research takes place it remains a speculative theory based entirely on assumptions and lacks evidence. However, instead of absolving this industry like intended, his theory raises more questions about the ethos of an industry in which a corporate psychopath could flourish and go unnoticed. For a more balanced view with concrete research about the existence of psychopaths in everyday life, one might seek out Jon Ronson’s, “psychopath test”; a conceptually brilliant worthwhile read.

Babiak, P. and R. D. Hare (2011) Snakes in Suits When Psychopaths Go to Work. New York: HarperCollins.

Boddy, C. (2011). The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis. Journal of Business Ethics 102: 255-259

Clarke, J. (2005) Working with Monsters. How to Identify and Protect yourself from the work place psychopath. Sydney: Random House.

Hare, R. (1999). ‘Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the psychopaths among us’, Psychology Today 27 (1), 54-61

Ronson, J. (2011). The Psychopath Test. London: MacMillan

Reflexivity is the new black

Stating

Within business I see the process of reflection as something that is crucial to learning within an enterprise and is something that our business as one unit is embracing. However, this reflective practice is often after the fact and as such can be deemed to a certain extent as dangerous. It can put off deconstructing and answering some important questions affecting your performance until tomorrow, things the team could address today. Through my reading, I have discovered the process of reflexivity, which is something I’d like to explore further and a process I think could be vital to our team.

Deconstruction

Reflexivity is a process which engages an individual (or team) to detect an issue there and then, exploring it and moving forward (Reynolds and Vince 2004). It is very similar to an emergent strategy, as it involves the implementation of strategy, not going in the expected way and reacting to that immediately (Worthington 2005). As such within business, where the external environment changes all the time, it has a crucial role.

Reflection allows an individual to consider a situation after it is over whereas reflexion enables a team or individual, to reflect and react in the moment. As such this is a reflective process, based on adapting to the changing internally and externally environment. It embraces the notion that it isn’t the details of the changes around you that are important, but the way you react to the changes that boosts your chances of success (Covin and Slevin 1997).

Reflexivity in practice was something that we used a great deal in Enactus Newcastle. We came back together at regular points through the week and explored how our strategy and projects were going; we reacted to any difficulties and exploited any emerging opportunities. We did not sit back and wait until the end of the full strategy implementation and then reflect on it. As such, this process is ideally suited to the activists, without our business, the ones who remain in the here and now and drive us forward. Their objectivity and drive to react, is a crucial skill that we need to harness within reflexivity. Members, like myself are more inclined to sit back and wait to see how things unfold over time or to discuss and explore situations further.

Within the work place and in business, over the past couple of years, I’ve allowed myself to be more reflexive. I realised, that you are never restrained or being forced to follow out a plan, no matter what; a detailed strategy is not a personal/organisational contract of action. As such, it “helps no one commercially or emotionally to sustain a situation that makes no sense” (McKean 2011), consequently it enables all those involved to constantly think, “is this actually working?”.  I don’t advocate, constantly chopping and changing strategy on a weekly basis, as it will fracture the business and cause damaging inconsistences (McKean 2011). But the value is within the fact, it helps a business fight fires in a more coherent manner and it makes avoiding the pit falls easier.

Moreover, the value of reflexivity is the immediate engagement with all participants. For the activists within our business, I can see the process of strategic planning, is painful to them; they just want to get out there and do it! But this provides a forum to express concerns or highlight issues in the here and now, instead of having to wait until the end of the process when the team does a “wash up” on a project. Consequently, team members feel listened to and can see short term gains within a long term strategy.

During our sustainability project, reflexivity was a tool that we could have utilised which may have benefited the project. Whilst there was a general understanding that things weren’t going well, we never addressed it in the moment. We didn’t change our strategy or analyse what exactly was happening, hence as a team we kept falling over issues, that felt obvious and completely out of the blue at the same time. When we came together as a team to reflect, a lot of what we were reflecting on was things that could have been solved and explored when they were happening. They weren’t deep rooted issues that needed to be analysed, they were simply practical issues, that if as a team, we’d addressed them, then we may have performed better. As such, utilising reflexivity in future projects and without our business, is something we need to build into our strategic process.

Theorising

I’ve explored several models for reflection. There is one model that stuck out during my wider reading that seems to be an ideal reflexive model. Rolfe (2001) developed a reflective model that based itself on Borton’s (1970) developmental model. Rolfe’s model is very simply, but unlike the other models of reflection, it involves a sense of immediacy and activism, without extensive theorising.  The model is made up of three basic questions, that go in a cycle; what? so what? And what next? As such it involves identifying an issue or situation at the moment, not in the past, then exploring what this means to the individual or business and then constructing a plan forward for change or a considered reaction to the issue.

The value in this model is not just in its simplicity, but in the directive questions that force an activist’s response, to do something rather than a lengthy considered reflective approach. Whilst theorising remains an important aspect, I do think in business, there needs to be a process which is about quick thinking and reactivity. Reflection should be the forum to explore and understand why things have happened in a particular sequence, where as being reflexive should be about tackling an issue and getting on top of it, there and then. Furthermore, within reflection, especially in our teams there is often an element of blame of culture; it is easier to blame a person, rather than to blame the process. Until we gain engage in a reflective process, that is open and honest, without “defensive routines” (Argyris 1991), reflexivity adds real value as due to the immediacy and urgency, emotion to an extent is remain. The process is about changing; achieving the common goal, not just about understanding hence the need to react overrides the blame game.

Construction

Applying this to our team and my individual processes, reflexivity alongside reflection should be built into our team ethos and process. McKean’s (2011) writings, in summary highlight a process for business success:

Success = identifying factor/need for change à reacting/reflexivityàdeveloping strategy and contingencyà implementation alongside reflexivity à outcome à Reflection.

Consequently, this is a process I’d like to see built into our team and is something I will be sharing next week. Whilst reflection will perform a framing tool around a task or business, a crucial factor in the beginning and the end for learning, in contrast, reflexivity will be a process we engage in constantly as a task progresses, enabling a flexibility, reactivity and developing our emergent strategies; something we haven’t been utilising so far as a team.

Optimising Reflective Practice to use within business

Kolb (1984: p26) refers to learning as experiential learning; a process in which ideas are not just static, but in which elements are formed and reformed through experience. Crucial to this learning process is the tool of reflection; the further on my entrepreneurial journey I travel, the more value I see in reflection as a learning process. Consequently, exploring it and learning more about it formed an instrumental, focal part of my individual learning contract and improving the structure of my reflective writing.

Schon (1983: p241-24) describes reflection as “surfacing, criticising, restructuring and testing intuitive understanding of experienced phenomena”. Hammer and Stanton (1997) expand this referring to its importance and considering refusal to reflect undermines a whole organisation. Consequently, reflection is crucial to my business and success as an entrepreneur, especially during this idea generation and product development stage, when the product/service is being developed from feedback. The difficulty with reflection is that it is a discipline, active and self-directed (Knowles 1984). As such, reflection has to become part of the learning process and has to be taken ownership of; it has to be prompted until it becomes second nature.

As I’ve increased my engagement with the reflection process, through-out the course, I’ve adapted my process, building it into an individualised process, that I can utilise because, essentially I created my version. When I began reflecting, I considered it was an introspective process and involved reflecting in isolation. However, the more I’ve used reflection as a tool, I’ve realised that reflection must be used with an awareness of the internal AND the external; social and political considerations (Reynolds and Vince 2004: p4). Furthermore, I utilise reflection as a method of challenging and questioning myself and the team. Processes and practices, I often take for granted. For example, I often lean towards research and strategic planning tasks, and avoid design and pitching. Reflection as a tool has enabled me to become more aware of my strengths and question exactly why I avoid some tasks. As such, reflection is a personal challenge to question and an opportunity to recognise the need to change.

To take this process further and to develop my efficiency and effectiveness within reflective practice, I wanted to research around reflective models to use within my reflective writing. Reynolds and Vince (2004) describe reflection as a process of “deconstruction” as a means of giving order to chaos. Whilst I consider, the deconstruction element is something I do rather well, challenging myself, I think the moving forward from the learning with an element of coherence could do with some work. I need to make sure I focus equally on the process of reconstruction at the end, so the process is exploited to its fullest potential.

I find the structuring of my reflective writing really challenging, as I want freedom in the process and I find any structure, as potentially limiting and restrictive. However, a structure will force me to pin down my thought process, into an end point that reconstructs at the end of a reflection, with product movement forward that I can enact in the future. In line with my learning contract, I’ve been spending time reading around reflection and looking for a process and structure, that works for me in order to really exploit the “ontological perspective” within reflection (Reynolds and Vince 2004: p35).

The first structure I looked at was the Gibbs (1988) learning cycle;

 

   

gibbs

                 

 

Gibbs 1988

This structure is well known and provides a very clear structure in which reflection on an incident can occur. It was this structure that motivated me to look towards finding a structure that suited my writing style. Whilst Gibbs cycle, encourages set stages of reflection through answering prompted questions, I find it is too rigid and I don’t benefit from this process. I think reflection should send you on a learning journey where you are guided through the reflection, which can end up at a point that is unexpected. I prefer this concept, over and above using questions as prompts and segmenting it.

The next structure I looked at was Schon’s (1983) structure, which depicts a “reflective conversation” (Reynolds and Vince 2004: p242). Schon’s (1983) model follows three steps; framing and reframing a problem or situation, deconstructing the situation and reflecting and finally developing a course of action based on the reflection. Whilst, this structure of reflection provides the flexibility within the process I want, it does not structure the middle process sufficiently. Especially, as I struggle with brevity when I begin to analyse. Moreover, applying Cunliffe (2002) definition of reflection, as something giving “order”, I think there needs an element of a structure that gives directed layers to reflection and something to build a reflective routine around, following distinct stages.

Another structure I looked at was John’s (1995) reflective model. It is one that exploits the view that reflection should be under our conscious control and to an extent objective; i.e. removing the emotional bias (Burgoyne 1992). It goes without saying that reflection can be an emotionally directed activity, which is why I often chose to reflect a while after the event, when emotional feelings have been defused. John’s (1995) structure is useful here, as the reflector engages in a process of reflecting initially internally “looking in” and considering the situation from a completely internal basis. The second stage is “looking out” where the reflector analyses what happened around them. The rest of the model involves a lot of questioning, which again seems quite restrictive, but I highlighted the model, as it reminds the reflector that they need to balance their reflection with internal and external considerations. A good reflection should be balanced with both.

The final model of reflection that I settled on, as the one to take forward as the core basis of my own reflective practice, is one that uses Dewey (1933) model which has four stages; collecting data, reflecting on the data, conceptualising and theorising and finally, translating into new actions and behaviours. For my own writing, I have relabelled the sections of the model which will involve, stating the experience/situation, deconstructing and analysing, making sense of it by applying theory and then reconstructing what I’ve learnt into something I can take forward and apply in the future. Furthermore, my model of reflection will also take the internal and external considerations forward from John’s (1995) model during stage two and four, ensuring a balanced reflection. At these two stages, the internal and external is important, as they heavily influence the deconstruction in terms of objective analysis and during reconstruction, learning must have applicability to yourself and the external environment around you.

My model of reflection (based on Dewey 1933 and Johns 1995)

Stage one

Stating

Stage two (external and internal factors)

Deconstruction

Stage three

Theorising

Stage four (external and internal factors)

Reconstruction

 

Consequently, this structure will now be the basis of my reflective writing. It provides enough of Gibbs (1988) structure, to inform and guide my reflective journey but is not too restrictive or based on answering questions. It takes its primary influence from Dewey’s model, but also embraces elements of Schon’s (1983) reflective conversation and Johns (1995) external and internal considerations.