Feeding feedback

Stating

Feedback is a controversial process and one that was completely rejected within a recent session in our team.  The issue is how to imbed feedback into our team as a learning tool and create an environment where we feel comfortable to give and receive feedback within the team. This was a process, that as a team, we did not want to engage in and during the specific feedback session, it was a highly emotionally charged atmosphere. Whilst members felt their feedback was honest and considered, there was a real block in terms of utilising it as a tool due to negative preconceptions, feeling constrained by the model suggested to us and a sense of fear surrounding member’s reactions. Moreover, there was a stark contrast between my engagement with the task and the rest of my team mates; a few refused to participate at all.

Feedback I received:

Elliot

Stop

  • Rambling too long in discussions.
  • Doing so much work in comparison to the rest in terms of article reading.

Start

  • Being more precise with your ideas and concepts – deliver the headlines.
  • Listen to other people’s opinions about your ideas more.

Continue

  • Being organised and efficient
  • Being a planner and getting the team organised
  • Helping the team out with assignments, seminars and things they don’t know.

Alice

Stop

  • You know too much and it can be overwhelming to those who don’t know anything; this can worry people or demotivate.
  • Bombarding with information, it is too much to take in.

Start

  • Working on your communication skills, improving your ability to be concise and clear when presenting information – you’re already doing this!

Continue

  • You are very approachable and will help anyone, I feel very comfortable approaching you when I don’t understand things outside class. You explain things very well.
  • You organise and direct the team – reminding everyone of deadlines and setting agendas.

Dean

Stop

  • Using so much detail – sometimes less is more.
  • Doubting yourself – your experience is useful.

Start

  • You are a strong leader; time to start leading.

Continue

  • You put 110% into everything- it is inspiring.
  • Organising the team and forcing us to plan before-hand.
  • Using your experience.

Katie

Stop

  • She can sometimes go into too much detail, so the team loses the key points to holding on to.

Start

  • Being more concise.

Continue

  • Producing high standards of work individually and within the team; you always meet the deadlines.
  • Being really enthusiastic and motivating.
  • Being a very reliable team member.
  • Organising and structuring our meetings.

Deconstruction

Starting with the difference between my view of the feedback task and the team’s; feedback used to be a process I’d avoid. I perceived it as wholly negative making evaluative judgements of others or inviting negative judgements of myself. Moreover, I considered that I wasn’t within a position of any authority to give feedback and I viewed the process as unconstructively criticising. Consequently, I’d take feedback personally and I’d typically give a defensive response, deflecting it and justifying the behaviour without listening. If I gave feedback, I’d likely apologise for it and worry about upsetting the other person, reflecting my own views of feedback.

As I’ve progressed through my education and career, I’ve repeatedly encountered feedback as an unavoidable process and one that delivers the opportunity to improve and enhance self-awareness. I’ve developed a sense of self-acceptance and ownership of the consequences of my behaviour. Feedback has rationally become a personal development and communication tool and one that I see positively with the sole purpose of enhancing performance, an inarguably positive thing.  After all, you cannot change or continue doing what as an individual or team, you are unaware of.

Feedback, alongside reflection, has become a tool in which teams I have been involved with have rebuilt and enhanced their performance; learning at one unit as well as individually. One of the reasons many of my teams initially struggled was because they did not know why they were failing, regular feedback and reflection, gave the opportunity to assess and identify issues and deviations from plans (Bee 1998).  As such feedback became a non-threatening tool in which we could explore successes and communicate areas of development, all united under the goal of enhancing performance. Furthermore, I personally utilised this process as a way of improving and reflecting on my own performance and it was this feedback process within these teams that developed the leadership skills I have today. I always invite feedback on a regular basis, with the aim of imbedding it into any team’s culture.

Feedback became an essential tool in the identification of my lack of team playing during competitive tasks.  I used to simply focus on outcomes and team performance, above team learning. I received the feedback that if tasks weren’t being done to my specification, I took over the task ensuring the performance, instead of supporting the team to reach required standards. This led to team dependence on me and the lack of communication surrounding why I was taking over, was demotivating. However, I perceived I was only doing my best for the team.  Receiving the feedback that I was behaving in this way and the effect, enabled my own learning that I needed to give more initial guidance, but then more autonomy and to give feedback regularly instead of simply taking over a struggling task without communication. Engaging in the process was initially difficult, but this two way dialogue built a better team, one that made mistakes and learnt from them and made me a more effective leader.

Consequently, I viewed the team task to give one another feedback as a learning opportunity and I found it the least difficult within the group. Unlike the others I didn’t have an emotional response and viewed it as simply learning. The feedback regarding my struggle to present information in a concise manner has been brought to my attention before within the team. I know that it can cause disengagement or confusion and I experience personal frustration with myself for not effectively communicating. However, Ali’s feedback that I can “worry” people and bombard with information, was an effect I was unaware of and is clearly demotivating for some members. As such, I see this as a real area of opportunity in which I can improve on within the team.

Conversely it was positive to see that my strengths are being recognised; organisation, planning, motivating and hard work; that I’m adding value and a unique layer to our team dynamics. In terms of the feedback, I gave to the other members, I spent time making it justifiable with examples and I didn’t feel nervous to share it. I saw it as an opportunity to recognise certain members, who seem completely unaware that they are such a valuable contribution to the group. People like Ali, who underestimate and show a distinct lack of confidence in their own abilities, but yet get out there and always give things ago, try new things and add real value to our team projects, alongside the opportunity to be honest.

I can only deconstruct my own feedback experience fully and I can only make assumptions about why I believe the team rejected the feedback task. As a collective, our team rejected the process, with many members refusing to take part or exhibiting very defensive responses. Moreover, whilst the feedback was justified with examples, there was a distinct amount of back tracking and disowning the feedback via blaming the lecturer for forcing them do it. The process pre and post feedback was incredibly emotional, with members very worried that others were going to be upset or they may get upset. After the process, there was a sense of heightened emotion, dismissiveness towards the structure and that something unwarranted had been imposed. The dismissal seemed to stem not from the content of the feedback, as every member communicated within a following team meeting that they stood by what they had written, but the structured process it was being forced into was unrealistic.

However, as a collective, the exercise was useful to highlight key areas of behaviour that we identified with as part of our team identity and things we wanted to improve on (Harms and Roebuck 2010). Consequently, the feedback was tool for our team to explore the behaviours we’d like to see exploited and the behaviours we’d like to remove, as such the process further cemented the foundations of our team “culture” (Harms and Roebuck 2010:414). Subsequently, the team saw value in the feedback process as a learning tool, but the structure and negative preconceptions made it ineffective for our team.

Theorising

The team’s initial difficulty the majority identified it as a negative process, instead of as an opportunity to capitalize on strengths and develop weaknesses (Gratton 2008). Many individuals consider feedback “irritating” and negative (Harms and Roebuck 2009); consequently we are conditioned to see it as a critical tool highlighting negative behaviour. However Harms and Roebuck, consider that feedback must be used constantly to explore team culture, giving praise and highlighting ineffective behaviours, with the aim of improving performance (2009:416). Feedback within the team should only be the starting point of a dialogue and in order to add value it needs to be combined with self-reflection, providing information and support to an individual (Harms and Roebuck 2010). Our team feedback lacked the two way dialogue as individuals didn’t respond to feedback honestly as felt constrained by a structure, consequently dismissing the process before reflection occurred and mutual agree was only reached superficially because the model of feedback imposed agreement.

Moreover, as a team we proved Cleveland et al’s (2007) hypothesis that giving performance feedback is more difficult than receiving. There was a distinct anxiety about giving feedback, as it was viewed as unproductive and critical but conversely each member was willing to receive it. The struggle featured not only in the compiling of the feedback but also the delivery, in which members back tracked on comments. However, the team was willing to hand over the full feedback sheets afterwards, demonstrating the team was not comfortable making evaluative comments in a face to face forum (Fredrick T. 2008). This suggests our team has a lack of psychological safety and feared retribution disabling the feedback process (Hills 2001); consequently as a team we need to concentrate on building trust into our team culture so we can own it.

Our team unwillingness to engage, negates feedback as a crucial element of effective team learning, as such we need to accept it; ensuring that it is frequent, timely and imbedded into the review of performance within a team is not only the cornerstone to learning but the cornerstone to improved team performance (Harms and Roebuck 2010). As a collective, if we tackle the lack of trust within the team, which should develop over time as we concentrate developing our team culture and normalise the process, the team will be more willing to engage.

The next issue to address was the imposed structure and the difficulties surround it. The structure that was suggested to us within our feedback session:

feedback

The above visual depiction combines elements of Arnold et al (2010) and Hills (2001) writings on feedback. As a model in theory, it clearly structures the feedback, gives the process a clear purpose and ensures a two way dialogue. However, the model constrained our team and disengaged the majority of members from the process. The unnatural aspect of it and the rigid structure, stopped the fluidity of feedback in which, individuals are supposed to be able to reflect, respond and reject if they wish. The model turned an alien process to many, into a highly artificial process. Consequently, this model of feedback delivery, whilst it has merit, is not practical within our team.

Our team whilst wanting a structure for the feedback process wants flexibility and ability to make it into our own. Furthermore, we want a model that does not necessarily seek agreement at the end of the feedback process, but one that focuses on communication and reflection. Foster (2002: 112) feedback models embody all the elements of feedback as outlined by other academics, but they are simpler and less prescriptive. Foster (2002) depicts two feedback models, which concentrate on feedback as a positive learning tool; the two models are “BET – behaviour, effect and thank you, in which positive behaviours can be recognised. The second model is “BEAR-Behaviour, effect, alternative and result” in which negative behaviour can be presented to a participant, the effects communicated and the result is that the behaviour is reflected upon (Foster 2002). These models whilst directing the feedback, giving clear stages concentrating on the effects of the behaviour, allow participants to frame the interaction how they chose and it doesn’t force any conclusion or agreement; focusing on communication and reflection as their aims (Foster 2002).

Having the two models run side by side, engages with the idea that feedback should be predominantly about positive reinforcement, in which 75% of all feedback should be positive (Harms and Roebuck 2010). The “Bear” model has two different stages, surrounding alternative and result (Foster 2002). As such alternative modes of action can be suggested and the results of not changing outlined, but the recipient in this model, is left with the final choice.  As such these feedback models don’t exist to forcibly change behaviour or to induce superficial agreement through a restrictive structure, but to communicate, increase self-awareness and improve team learning (Foster 2002). Regardless of whether, the receiver choses to act on the feedback, they are now aware of the effects of their behaviour within the team and they can make a more informed choice surrounding how to behave. Consequently, “blind spots are eliminated” (Harms and Roebuck 2010: 422). Moreover, this model encourages a natural and honest response from the receiver, which is enabled through freedom and flexibility (Lake 1997).

Construction

The team rejection of feedback is a stumbling block within our team learning. But it is clear from the deconstruction above, why the team has rejected it, surrounding the two issues of viewing it as a distinctly negative process and one in which, a rigid, false structure was suggested to our team, one that didn’t suit us. Subsequently, using Foster’s BET and BEAR models, gives our team the opportunity to engage in feedback in the way we want to, focusing on communication and reflection, whilst utilising it as a mode of communicating predominantly positive behaviour.

In order to further imbed the process of feedback into our team learning culture, we need to embrace it as a regular and continuous process, featuring weekly in our team meetings as a reflective and reflexive tool, normalising the process (Hatton 2007). It is a tool that potentially enhances and steers team learning, communicating the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us (Armstrong 2006). This can only be a positive process focusing on improving performance, as illustrated with the feedback I received about my poor verbal presentation of ideas, I knew this was an issue but was unaware of the effect of it on members of the team. As such we intend to embody Arnold et al’s (2010) view of feedback as something that is mutually supportive, informative, constructing a stronger group and recognising accomplishment.

Furthermore, we need to confidently own the interactions as a positive method of improving performance, instead of disowning it as something we are being forced to do within coaching sessions, lessening its impact (Hatton 2007). Such ownership will embody our aims to become a “learning team” (Hills 2001); one that embraces feedback. Consequently, we need to deepen our team trust and believe in Foster’s models as an effective way to improve team performance and one that recognises we are all individuals with different levels of feedback receptiveness (Armstrong 2006). Consequently, we should assess the capacity to digested feedback; Bee 1998 draws upon the idea that some members will only take thimbles of feedback on board at a time, whereas other members will happily accept bucket loads of it. Subsequently Foster’s models don’t force agreement, leaving the individual with a choice.

Finally, reflecting on my personal feedback, I think I need to consider why I find the process of presenting information back into the group difficult and to research communication strategies to counteract this, to avoid demotivating and disengaging the team. Furthermore, it is a hugely positive step that the team see me as someone who shares back their learning and helps when others don’t understand, as this is truly exemplifying team learning culture and ethos, our team is trying to establish.

Armstrong, M. (2006) Performance Management. (3rd ed) London:Kogan Page

Arnold, J., Randall, R. et al. (2010). Work Psychology. (5th ed.). Harlow:Pearson

Bee et al. (1998) Constructive Feedback. London: Institute of personal development

Cleveland, J. N. et al (2007) Feedback phobia? Why employers do not want to give or receive performance feedback. In J. Langan- Fox, C. L. Cooper & R. J. Klimoski (Eds.), Research companion to the dysfunctional workplace:management challenges and symptoms (pp. 168-186). Northampton, M A: Edward Elgar

Foster, P. (2002). Performance documentation. Business Communication Quarterly, 65, 108-114

Fredrick T. (2008). Facilitating better teamwork: Analyzing the challenges and strategies of classroom based collaboration. Business Communication Quarterly, 71, 439-455.

Gratton, L. (2008) Counterpoint. People and Strategy, 31 (3), 9.

Harms, P. L., & Roebuck, D. (2010). Teaching the Art and Craft of Giving and Receiving Feedback. Business Communication Quarterly, 73(4), 413-431

Hatton, A. The Definitive Business Pitch. Harlow: FT Prentice Hall

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

Lake, C. (1997) Open Learning – Communication. Oxford: Pergamon Open Learning

One step forward….

So today, instead of fiercely guarding my knowledge, I shared it. I didn’t do it by telling someone what to do or by doing it for them either. I facilitated them to make a choice and work it out for themselves.

The end result; they understood the end product of what they were trying to achieve because they had made sense of it for themselves. They also re-interpretted an idea and added to my ideas…….which was interesting, as I would never have looked at the task in the way they have. Whilst, I still like the strategy i have developed so far, their point of view was definately food for thought. We both took something away from the transaction. What did I take away; the tool of comparison.

Working in business teams isn’t so bad….

The Learning Contract

Learning Contract

This week we were asked to complete a learning contract, a commitment to something new and active learning.  McAllister (1996) considers a learning contract crucial when the learning needs to be deeper, active and self directed. In fact the contract becomes not just a written declaration to the world, but a tangible declaration to yourself.

For my learning contract (see below), i’ve followed and will continue to follow Knowles, Holton and Swanson’s (2012), 8 step guide.

Step 1 : Identify learning needs

Step 2: Specify Smart learning objectives

Step 3: Specify strategies and resources you will use.

Step 4: Evidence of accomplishment

Step 5: Specify validation

Step 6: Review contract with coach

Step 7: Carry out contract

Step 8: Evaluate

I’ve compiled my learning contract in line with these steps and I’ve currently submitted my contract for feedback. It is my intention to carry out the contract and then evaluate, at the end, my learning.

My learning contract focuses on three key areas; ability to reflect in a more soundly, effective structured way. I hope this will improve my quality of writing and enhance the reflective process, benefiting the business. Secondly, I want to become more of a risk taker and change my attitude. Within personal challenges and tasks, I’ve become much more able to jump at challenges and take on the impossible. But within a group, I tend to try and stick to the comfortable and what I know. Moreover, I’m more inclined to try and push forward my idea because it makes sense to me, than consider taking forward someone else’s. Consequently, I’m keen to challenge myself and seek out new ways of doing things and being more free, within a group environment. Thirdly, i’d like to improve my ability to communicate verbally. I often over prepare for meetings and have lots of ideas. Therefore, my important points are lost or I launch into a long ramble. I think my communication in this area needs to be improved and it would also enhance my confidence within networking situations, instead of already thinking i’m going to be incoherent.

McAllister (1996) expresses a wide range of reasons why a learning contract can be effective tool; her article focus’ on the idea contracts promote learning autonomy and self reliance (Knowles 1984)). Whilst these are meritous, as an already active, self-reliant learner within business, i don’t intend to use them in the way. I propose to use my learning contract for two functions. Firstly, to stand still, reflect and identify my current knowledge gaps. Identifying these knowledge gaps will not only lead to self awareness, but will also boost my motivation to learn; “knowledge will be gained because I want it” (McAllister 1996:201)

Secondly, as a student that has often struggled to balance her the necessary rest time alongside work time, I rarely take a second to reflect on achievements. I always reflect on negatives, issues and especially failures, but where i complete something, I move on to the next thing at a rapid speed. This leads to a feeling of constantly running on a treadmill, sometimes a complete lack of awareness of self improvement and forgeting to acknowledge successes and achievements. Acknowledging achievements is something that I hold up as essential within a team, yet I rarely practice what I preach. Consequently, the time limit on the learning contract will (hopefully) provide the ability to acknowledge successes and review the process behind the success.

Within the strategies section, I’ve tried in each case, to go full circle in the Kolb and Fry (1975) learning cycle; ensuring that i’m an activist, reflector, theorist and pragmatist in each case. As I’m less inclined to be an activist, I’ve endeavored to make sure the evidence is weighted towards, doing things. My natural instinct is to learning and explore but I don’t necessarily put things into practice. I’ve become much more of an activist as I’ve grown up; business is an activists play ground. But I think an area, where I lack, is that I don’t experiment. I decide on one course of action and proceed, therefore I think this tunnelled approach is removing my confidence to take risks and I’m missing out.

With this in mind, this is my learning contract. After the 12th of December, I will review the progress and I will also montior its implementation along the way.

 

Name  Rachel Horton                    Start Date   31/10/2013                                                          End Date 12/12/13

 

Learning Objectives

Learning Resources and Strategies

Evidence of Accomplishment of   Objectives

Assessment Criteria

Work on up to 3 SMART objectives at   a time

 

 

 

List activities that will   convince yourself and others that you have achieved your objectives

Specify how the evidence of   accomplishment of objectives will be assessed and by whom

 

1. To experiment with 4 different   reflective writing structures by 18th November, in order to   utilize and implement the most effective within my reflective pieces to   improve the structure and coherence.

 

 

 

 

 

      

  • Academic        books and journal articles.
  •   

  • Identify        what is wrong with current structure, taking on board Lucy’s feedback.
  •   

  • Identify        proficient reflective writers and read their pieces.
  •   

  • Experiment        with different structures with writing.
  •   

  • Reflect        and reassess after each writing piece.
  •   

  • Seek        feedback and reflect on it.
      

  • Reflective        knowledge and academic literature evidenced within my writing.
  •   

  • Evidence        and knowledge of several reflective structures.
  •   

  • Ability        to set out what structure I’m using within writing and being able to        justify the choice.
  •   

  • Experimenting        with different structures within my reflective journal.
  •   

  • Seeking        out and responding to feedback on reflective pieces.

 

      

  • Seeking        out feedback from Lucy in regards to my reflective writing; feedback so        far is that quality of writing is high but structure is lacking.        Consequently, improvement of structure and comments around that area.
  •   

  • Ability        to recognize which reflective structure is being used, making my        reflective pieces easier to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. To take on and complete one team   task every other week, that is completely out of my comfort zone and skill   set until January 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      

  • Identify        the typical tasks and roles I take on within the team.
  •   

  • Identify        gaps in knowledge, skills and tasks I may shy away from; reflect.
  •   

  • Reflect        on why I often seek solutions that make sense rationally and often        ignore gut instinct.
  •   

  • Consider        times when I and as a team, have taken risks and why it succeed or        failed?
  •   

  • Taking        a more activist approach within certain tasks and instead of thinking,        just do.

 

      

  • Taking        on tasks and roles that I wouldn’t normally do.
  •   

  • Stepping        outside of comfort zone and a feeling of anxiety when approaching tasks.
  •   

  • Feeling        challenged.
  •   

  • Seeking        out expertise within the team and observing others strengths; teaming up        with an expert in a particular area.
  •   

  • Putting        trust in others and their ideas within the team implicitly.

 

      

  • Personal        and team recognition of either successfully completing/learning        something new or improvement visible within a particular area.
  •   

  • Being        able to do something new or tackle something with increased confidence.
  •   

  • Team        and coach will notice an increased self confidence in areas and        increased commitment to the team learning aspect of the course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To prepare a maximum of six key   points I’d like to express to the team within each team meetings, to improve   the conciseness and coherence of my verbal communication by Dec 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      

  • Reflect        and consider why verbally my communication can be rambling, fast,        disorganized in comparison to the effectiveness of my written        communication.
  •   

  • Research        and investigate communication strategies; implementing and trying        different ones.
  •   

  • Invest        time in preparing for meetings, making my points more concise instead of        over preparing and developing points.
  •   

  • Public        speak and present ideas to the group more within group meetings.
  •   

  • Ask        for the group to summarise or repeat the points what I’ve said; observe        whether they were picked up.
  •   

  • Use a        more structure approach; set out what I’m saying, explain it, then        re-iterate it at the end briefly.
  •   

  • Ask        for feedback on my communication from the team.
  •   

  • Observe        team members that communicate very well verbally.

 

      

  • Clear,        list of discussion points before each meeting.
  •   

  • Experimenting        with different communication styles.
  •   

  • Increased        confidence in communicating verbally.
  •   

  • Improved        understanding and less frustration within the group.

 

 

      

  • Clearer        understanding and better communication of points, assessed by the team.
  •   

  • Improved        presentation style and organization of verbal communication, assessed by        lecturers.
  •   

  • Clear        implementation of feedback from peers and lecturers, evidenced in        improved delivery.
  •   

  • Increased        self-confidence and reduction of anxiety and frustration, when        communicating verbally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question everything

riddler

I heard a very good piece of advice recently, “question everything!” This is something I’ve been brought up to do, something I do daily and I think is a crucial skill within being an entrepreneur. The art of looking at the norm or a product and questioning, “Why does this have to be this way?” and “How could things be improved?” Nothing has to remain the same and nothing should remain unchallenged. That is exactly what entrepreneurs are, they are business challengers.

Questioning things is a deep part of my personality. I believe it improves processes, teams, and business. This aspect of my personality and my willingness to question things, leads me on to the focus of this post. What is the impact of my personality on our business team and on their learning?

Hills (2001:33) defines personality as “the probability of a particular set of behaviours occurring” and considers that “personality drives the nature of interactions between people.” From this evaluation, we can consider personality types are crucial to effective communication between people which is, in turn, crucial to developing an effective team. At first glance, this seems challenging, that who you are and how you are perceived directly impacts on our team. But from previous experience within teams, I would say aspects of my personality have been initially misinterpreted which have had an impact on the team. Once the team has got to know who I am and how I work, the impact is lessened dramatically.

So the questioning begins with my personality type. Well, I could list off a variety of attributes I think I have, but the most effective method of assessing this stems from the Myers Briggs Type Inventory. This comes in the form of a questionnaire and focuses on types of personalities leading to certain likely behaviours. A participant answers certain questions and is labelled a type. My type, is as always, an INTJ, which is apparently quite rare. I have been this type since I took the inventory, ten years ago. The only aspect that has changed, is that gradually, I’m becoming less of a strict thinker, representing the fact I consider people and their feelings on board. I also attempt to be more risk taking and go a little more on my gut instinct.

My results are as follows;

I’m 44% introvert – thought orientated, deep thinker, recharge alone

88% intuitive – seek pattern recognition and meaning

12% thinking – Objective, logical, deductive decision maker

33% judging – Seeks organised and structured learning.

From these results, you can begin to gleam what sort of person I am.

Another method of personality labelling has been put forward by Cattell and Kline (1977) and focuses on personality traits: 16 of them. Within their questionnaire, again you answer a serious of questions and the outcome is you are rated between 0-4 for each trait. The closer you are to 4, the more you are considered to hold the personality trait.

My results were as follows:

Warmth – 2.6

Reasoning – 3.4

Emotional stability – 2.6

Dominance – 3

Liveliness- 2.1

Rule conscious – 2.4

Social boldness – 1.2

Sensitivity – 2.7

Vigilance – 0.6

Abstractedness – 3.3

Privateness – 1.6

Apprehension – 1.7

Openness to change – 3

Self-reliance – 2.8

Perfectionism – 2.1

Tension – 1

So far within my learning, I have focused on self-awareness and self-reflection. This is the starting point. But I’m yet to consider what these results mean in the sense of the team and question the impact of my personality on the team.

Looking at the results so far, the picture paints an introverted, pragmatic individual. One who reacts based on rationality and judgement over feelings. Someone who seeks out meaning, challenges and can be detached and self-reliant. A dominant personality, who welcomes idea exploration and is always open to change.

As Hills (2001) suggests, it is the people within the team that make the team, hence knowing the people within the team and how they interact is so crucial. Consequently, it is the personalities, the mixture of personalities and understanding of those personalities that is the most important in determining the success of a team.  Hills (2001) discusses many barriers to team development and effective team learning, but there were two points, which instantly stuck out to me. He considered two of the barriers are (and he listed many), the detached learner and the self-sufficient learner. These are two aspects of my personality (I am quite detached and I am very self-sufficient) that I have never questioned how they would impact the team.

The detached learner is an introvert, one that doesn’t rely on people, one that needs to process information often in isolation before reflecting back into the group. This personality can be misunderstood, considered aloof and is hard to grasp by learners that like learning alongside other people. Consequently, my quietness in meetings, sitting a part and often leaving a meeting at the end to be on my own, can be (and on reflection, has been) mis-interpreted. It gives off the air of someone who doesn’t actively want to be involved and someone who isn’t interested in engaging with the group on a personal level. This couldn’t be further from the truth it is just the way I naturally am within a business environment.

The self-sufficient aspect has always been something I saw as a strong point. I take ownership of my own learning and I manage my own learning effectively. I don’t bring what I learn back into the team and I don’t actively involve them in the process, I often feel I don’t have to, after all I’m the one engaging in the learning process. Hence, I can come across as the one who seems to know everything or may be more aptly, “the one who think she knows everything”. But within a team learning business environment, I’m not being a team learner and I’m not ensuring the sustainability of the group. I am pocketing knowledge in secret.

Consequently, as a team, we need to take two steps. We need to first learn about our personalities, question them and understand what we do to then communicate that into the team. Secondly, we need to listen to others and how their personality may impact on the team. As a team and as individuals, assessing personality and behaviour, we need to appreciate the importance of diversity. We have a lot of differences, that instead of rejecting; we could focus on as being complimentary when paired together.

Moreover, the key to an effective team is compromise. It is about accepting how you are and how others are and working together on the business in the middle ground. Whilst having awareness, that if someone like me detaches, it is simply to think and reflect, and that will be of benefit to the team. Also, if someone else gets defensive or upset about feedback, it is because they are driven by their emotions; passion is always beneficial within a team. Most importantly, it is having the confidence to question the behaviours and personalities of others, to gain a greater insight and understanding.

As an individual, I can make small changes which will have a big difference, something which Anderson (2013) advocated in one of my previous blog posts. I can stick with the group more, even if just superficially during lectures, seminars and breaks. But I will take my lunch breaks alone; as this is the time I utilise to plan and reflect. In terms of sharing my learning, I can communicate more openly what I’m learning and highlight it within the group. I will stop looking at the learning from the point of view, what do I need to know and what does my business need to launch? Instead, I will look at it strategically considering, what will the team benefit from learning and what does the team need to launch our business.

These steps forward, couldn’t have been made without questioning things that are so natural within my interactions and learning processes; things I’ve never questioned before. Questioning enables progress and change. Therefore, question everything in business, including your personality.

 

 

Communication, communication, communication

Our business team meeting was as ever fruitful, filled with the unspoken and overflowing with frustration. However, this time, it felt positive at the end. It finally felt like a step forward. Through-out our discussion we weaved our way through points that we have been avoiding as a group (although as an individual, I’ve been perfectly aware of these from day one and communicated these many times – but this comes onto communication, the theme of this post) and pragmatically discussed through them. What was the most interesting for me, as I tried to take a neutral, challenging and objective stand point, was that many of the things the team initially rejected in the beginning, especially things I put to the team, in terms of lack of quality in the end product, the team seemed to come full circle in the end and agree that these were lacking.

Points covered within our post-Motorola discussion of the sustainability project were;

  • Communication in the last project was the main issue; we are heavily reliant on Facebook. Meetings are poor productivity wise, due to the lack of engagement and atmosphere we conduct them in. This is a complete lack of understanding and listening within the group.
  • We don’t use our Motorola’s. We see them as things we have to do for our assignment and hence they are completely superficial. Moreover, once we have done the pre-Motorola, we don’t look at it again and assess at the end whether, we’ve achieved our goals. Nor, do we usually complete a post Motorola, assessing our end product.
  • We don’t experiment with different ways of working and we simply repeat similar mistakes, with the soul of aim of completing the project, instead of focusing on how to complete the project in a quality way.
  • We don’t have a middle assessment or break projects down or break roles down or set deadlines, consequently we have a mad rush at the end to pull things together. It isn’t until the end we realise, things we’ve missed, extra research that should have been done and difficulties certain members have been happening.
  • Lack of engagement within projects comes from the fact, many members only get a very superficial understanding of the project and consequently, they can’t penetrate deeper and explore different ideas, as they aren’t aware. Moreover, this leads to a complete lack of understanding with the direction of the project, as members don’t understand why the project ends up going in the direction it goes in.
  • We don’t brain storm in the beginning as a collective, so the project becomes a mish-mash of individual member’s ideas that aren’t developed as a team. Hence the different elements within the project can come across as disjointed. Moreover, certain members feel completely overloaded.
  • We focus on individual contributions instead of the unit contributions; hence issues of blame and such like can come to the fore.

This was a huge step forward in regards of the team identifying problems and developing productively. ; Especially in regards to the issue of communication. We don’t communicate within the group, we don’t communicate ideas, difficulties, we don’t hand over effectively from one section of the project to the end and any forms of communication we do have, are ineffective and inefficient.  , Consequently, each section Research, report and presentation, ends up completely disjointed. We need to consider a productive way to diffuse the knowledge into each, so that understanding isn’t lost. Also, we simply focus on the quality of the visuals of the presentation. As the visuals for our presentation, as always were good, as a team we deem this as good quality. But in fact, I think our presentation was quite poor. We didn’t manage to summarise the report or present our implementation plan; it wasn’t a pitch. As our presenter wasn’t involved in any other area of the project, you could tell when he was presenting the whole, he didn’t really understand a lot of it or was re-interpreting bits, which became misleading to the audience. Once again, effective communication is here, not just within the team but to our wider audience; both are lack. The final delivery of a pitch should be a collective effort and the script should be presented back to the team beforehand for review or even to an outside for feedback.

Waber (2013) considers that the crutch of any successful team and business is the act of meeting face to face, something we try to do once week but we are yet to have a full meeting with every member there. He considers “physical touch promotes closeness which leads to better co-operation and higher performance”. The point of his simple, but insightful article is that whilst when we are greeted with failure and a failing team, we often opt for drastic, physical solutions; in fact small changes can make the difference.  He puts forwards two crucial elements that can unite a business towards performance; increased interaction and dressing the uniting part.

In terms of reflecting and applying this, the most successful teams I’ve been a part of have worked together, met a lot both professionally and socially and viewed themselves as one unit. This bonding came from simply spending time together and instead of looking at a problem, from the view point of a group of individuals; they viewed it as a unit. We also had a leader, me, who really pushed forward communication. I held weekly, often more, meetings to check in and discuss. I relied on these meetings to communicate information and I had a secretary within the group. Someone impartial, who ensured the meeting, went ahead productively. But when assessing the failures of the team, I immediately considered that poor communication was at fault and the team, which was huge and sprawling, relied on tech communication.

A similar situation is happening here, we are too focussed on Facebook, which you can chose to read or not and forget that communication, isn’t just about communicating information and putting forward your ideas and views. It is about developing an effective communication strategy, one that engages all team members and offers the opportunity for feedback and discussion. It is also about feeding off the team in front of you; you can gauge interest levels, motivation and whether the team is actually backing the direction of the project.

Within most forming teams, constant meetings can seem like a bind and unproductive; meeting for meetings sake, especially if the meetings don’t work in terms of engagement. But initially in the beginning formation of a team, I think face to face meeting is crucial. Utilising that time together might be more time consuming in the short term, but in the long term it actually saves time. In Enactus and Gateshead Council for example, the teams are now so established and work together in such a manner, that the amount of meetings needed is reduced and communication over Facebook can occur effectively in the interim. But each team still has regular meetings, whether there are things of importance to discuss or not. Sometimes, meetings are just airing frustrations and updating on our individual work load, with no real sense of urgency; a check in.

Waber’s (2013) other assertion is about dressing the part. Enactus was very focussed on this. In our informal meetings, we dressed down and like ourselves. But in our proper meetings, we dressed smart casual, in business attire and we held our meetings within formal surroundings. We felt professional and business like; consequently, we were more productive and professional in our conduct.  As our team progressed, we eventually opted to wear the colour blue as a uniting uniform. We owned matching tailored shirts and when we went to events, business competitions and meetings, we wore these items to not only set us apart and make us identifiable, but to unite us as a team. There was something very team like and professional about walking into an environment, with a visible uniform. We noticed the change from the fact in uniform we rarely said, “I’m part of Enactus Newcastle”; in fact the response became “we are Enactus Newcastle”. Even as individuals, we referred to ourselves as a “we” and not a distinct unit of the team.

Whilst I don’t believe our team would go for the uniform idea. I do think increasing the amount meetings we hold face to face and we could utilise a uniting factor, by creating a team name with an identity. Instead of approaching the task “what do we have to do”, instead with an identity the question should become “what does Team…. Want to achieve within this?”

Amy Anderson (2013) puts forward other relatively small ideas that could enhance our communication within our team. She puts forward the age old truth that “success in business is greatly impacted for better or worse by the way in which we communicate”. Consequently, assessing our current communication as a team and individuals, it isn’t difficult to see why our productivity and success is limited. In short, our team will not improve, unless we really look deeply at the ways we are communicating and their effectiveness.

Within her article she makes some startling assertions backed by research from Dr Lund, that 8% of communication is based on what you say and 55% on your facial expressions and 37% is based on the tone of their voice. As someone, who takes a lot of time to reflect, before they speak, so usually my words are very considered, I was shocked by this result. Moreover, my body language is very telling and I’m an extremely expressive person. Sometimes I find myself, turning away, crossing arms and becoming completely disengaged if I am approached in an aggressive manner or instantly shot down, when I think something I’ve said deserves a bit more value. I’m not an angry person or aggressive, but what I’ve come to realise about myself, is that I’m very passive aggressive. I can be this way even within the workplace. I clench my jaw, I twist my hair, I pout and I become visibly un-cooperative, I’m no longer listening out of principle. This sounds completely childish, but I know myself and I know when to snap out of it.

As I’m aware of this tendency, I work very hard to try and look at things from the other person’s point of view and attempt to control my body language. To take emotions out of it and to constantly recite the mantra “it’s not personal, it is business”. Gradually, I’m becoming much better at this but I still have my moments, one of which was yesterday within an interaction with a member of our group, where I could simply disengage completely. Instead, I managed to rationalise her comments and realise that the key to the problem was miscommunication within the team; it was not a personal attack. We are both looking at the same issue but from two stand points with two separate insights. In terms of something personal to take forward, I need to consider my body language and the way I communicate in a group and less focus on what I’m saying.

Anderson (2013) develops other communication advice that could be invaluable if applied within our team. Our meetings are often disorganised and people are itching to leave. As Anderson (2013) suggests, within communication (and within meetings), you should set expectations of what you wish to gain out of the communication, which is stated at the beginning and clarify if you have met them at the end. Applying this to our meetings, this involves setting goals and objectives at the beginning of the meeting, not only to guide but to communicate what we need to do with in the time so everyone’s expectations are realistic. We also need to clarify at the end, if we met the goals and objectives, to ensure that our meeting time was efficiently used.

Another point from the article, was the idea that interaction is a two way street. It is not just about letting everyone speak and communicate their points, whilst they all fall into a vacuum. It should be about listening and digesting people’s points. As a team, we are very good at talking and expressing ourselves, which is of course a good thing. But we don’t listen to each other; hence a lot of valuable information, potential ideas and team decisions are lost. We spend a lot of time as a group being confused, lost and not moving forward. Within our team, I spend a great deal of time asking questions and listening to others, especially within our team meetings. I prefer to take a back seat role instead of being so dominant. There are a lot of dominant personalities within the group, so another strong female will only make our meetings more unproductive.

This leads me onto, Anderson’s (2013) final bit of advice; adapt communication style varying to situations. As a team and individuals, we need to adapt to others, within our communication strategy. This comes down to even within our presentations, we don’t communicate effectively or efficiently what we are proposing and pitching. We don’t step it up professionally, as we are simply presenting to our coaches. If we considered our style and our audience more, our communication could be more effective. Moreover, we could take steps in assessing what our key messages are and structuring our communication around them.

The session enabled the team to not only review our past performance, current communication within the group and to reflect on this progress so far, we were also able to strip down Anderson and Waber’s articles and apply key learning from their key points to our future activity as a group. Therefore, as a team we made several positive steps forward for the future, in terms of pragmatic plans;

  • We will take a step back before each project launch initially to refocus and assess our performance from the last project, before storming into the next business project.
  • Before our project launch meeting, individually, we need to go away and make sure we understand the project brief and come up with potential ideas. At the project launch meeting, we will have this in a class room environment and we will facilitate a brain storming session. The planning before the meeting should ensure that our ideas and points are developed; we will go round the room listening to ideas and evaluating and feeding back as a group. We hope that ideas may be developed within the group, provoke contributions, to ensure engagement within the project. This will allow give the whole team the means to really consider the pre-Motorola as a useful tool in planning.
  • We will have more meetings and break them down into beginning, middle and end meetings before delivery of the project so we can be reactive and engage. This middle meeting is crucial to re-assess progress and to check in with everyone’s status. This will also be another face to face form of communication, reducing the confusing occurring due to Facebook. The increased meeting will increase our face to face communication time, which in turn should further bond us as a team.
  • The project manager will be responsible for controlling meetings, facilitating discussion and ensuring we achieve the objectives of the meetings. They will set out what we need to achieve as a team by the end of the meeting. This will mean team members will have more realistic expectations of the time needed and communicating the goals, means progress is more tangible.
  • We will use the Motorola’s more as tools, to use them to help the projects and the weekly reading will be developed to help the project.  The pre-Motorola will be an essential planning tool and mode of reassessment through-out the project. The post Motorola and the pre-Motorola will be effective in terms of reflecting on performances of a past project, especially in regards to the issues we have with communication. Have the communication strategies employed been more effective, efficient and how did they impact on the final product of work.
  • We will consider changing our attire to be more professional when we are working on the business and projects. Moreover, we will also consider uniting ourselves under a team name, creating an identity. Our meetings will be approach more professionally with attitude, preparation and we will select a better environment to enhance this.

These really pragmatic solutions are a step forward to try and ensure the project development becomes more efficient and effective. These solutions are not major changes, they are utilising things we already do inefficiently within the time and giving them more structure and thought.

On an ending note, we were given the feedback as already mentioned that a lot of what we are doing focuses on ensuring the delivery of the project and not on the quality of the project. Firstly, I don’t think we have any controls there to monitor the quality but also I don’t think we can run before we can walk. I think our first priority has to be delivering on the project, as we are yet to fulfil a project brief completely, although last time was an attempt. Secondly, once we start actively completing the projects and delivering, we can then start to look at how to improve. Delivering a project and fulfilling the brief as a team, is surely the first objective here. Consequently, improving our communication, which has repeatedly been labelled as a huge weakness and was responsible for the failure of the last task, is the first step in delivering a project successfully. Once this has been achieved, we can plan how to deliver a successful project.

Online article references

http://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2013/05/28/successful-business-communication-it-starts-at-the-beginning/

http://www.ftpress.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2087653

 

 

The New Business Plan: More Data, Less Detail

As an entrepreneur about to take the plunge of writing my own business plan, I found this article a refreshing view on the aged old business plan format and approach. Worth a read.

The Information Age

10.30.13 Data in Business Plans

Story provided by OPEN forum – 

Today’s business plan should be chock full of industry analysis. But don’t take our word for it. We asked the OPEN Forum community what they thought of this new numbers-driven plan.

Having a business plan that charts your intended course and helps you plan for the unexpected can keep you on track with your company goals. While there are many aspects to a business plan, one ingredient is an industry analysis.

Recently, OPEN Forum community member Angela Dougall asked, “Why is an industry analysis so important when putting a business plan together?

As it turns out, there are several good reasons to include an industry analysis in your business plan.

Important First Step

An industry analysis is a critical, and necessary, first step before you define your plan, says Erik Otto, president and co-founder of InSpark Technologies, a small business that…

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