Irrationally held Truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors – Huxley 1825-1895

Stating

Our team ended our team learning module on a high, with formed friendships, cohesion, evidence of team working and learning and increasing “psychological safety” in the group (Hills 2001). This is a stark contrast to the emotionally loaded response experienced when our old team was split up and the mourning experienced at the loss of the old team.

Deconstruction

When our old team was split up, the emotional response was extreme and surprising. The old team functionally did not work; moreover, we didn’t necessarily get on as individuals when working together. In fact, after splitting up, as individuals, we get on a lot better now and it feels like tension has been relieved. Consequently, the expectation due to the failures of previous tasks, poor team working, lack of communication and tension building, was that we’d look forward to splitting up the team and a new beginning. This was an expectation I shared with members of both teams.

I was looking forward to engaging with business minds that had been placed with me, to compliment and challenge me, and for my existence in the new team, to do the same for others. I wanted to feel an enterprising spark, similar to what I had within Enactus and what I had at the beginning of my time with Gateshead Council, where by, I know there is really “something” within this collective of people and exciting things lie ahead, even if it is far from perfect at the moment. With the old team, we all felt nothing.

So when the team was split up, there was a significant amount of misplaced anger towards the lecturing staff for doing such a thing and anger directed towards members of our new team. It was also interesting because before the team swap, we’d heard lots about other members of the other team, so we united with many preconceived ideas of each other. I’m sure others had assumptions about me too. Surprisingly, even I felt up tipped and a bit resentful of this new team, which was completely unexpected, as I’d wished for the change so much.

However, week two was a lot more positive and we went through a process of discovery, realising that within this team whilst we were all very different, there was a good match of skills and differences. When we started discussing our business ideas, there was a spark there and a different type of energy. Moreover, as the weeks grew on, there grew a bond, where by the team, engaged in tasks for the team’s overall learning as a unit. Such learning could only take place, in situations where physical proximity was enabled. However, outside of meetings and physically working together, the bond by the end of the module wasn’t strong enough for distance learning as a unit, but it was a positive start. But within the progression towards the end of the module, there was a progression from group of emotional individuals into the beginnings of a team.

Within the team learning module, this is probably the module in which has enabled me to truly get the most out of my other modules and to challenge my preconceived strengths and weaknesses, whilst showing me how I can effectively contribute to the team. My biggest learning point has been the potential learning opportunities within the team itself, if team work and a team learning culture is fully embraced. I’ve learnt far more about myself, about business and about other people through my “interactions” and “experience” within my teams (Winstanley 2005). I’ve also realised that on reflection, all the high emotions and frustrations, as real and as personal they felt within the team, are actually a natural process of team learning and team formation. Perceived failings and difficulties was actually the team learning (Winstanley 2005).

Theorising

The emotional response in the beginning of the new team could be put down to a new “learning shock” in which a new learning environment is formed and is completely unfamiliar and the learner experiences a state of shell shock (Winstanley 2005). Within the learning shock theory, learners experience feelings of disorientation, frustration, tension and desperately try to cling onto the familiar (Winstanley 2005). This can further be connected with Mezirow ‘s (1990) theory of “meaningful learning”, in which learners in new situations can experience a “narrow orientation”, in which they attempt to reject norms, that don’t coincide with what they already know. Within a team working environment, especially one that is enforced, even the most narrow orientation of learner within the team is forced to be more receptive and open themselves to new, uncomfortable experiences, that don’t accord with their “cognitive structure” (Mezirow 1990).

Such a process, enhances the “learning shock”, as the new team presents an unfamiliar, learning opportunity with a “bewildering set of new norms”, provoking a highly emotive response (Winstanley 2005). As such, self-doubt sets in, with the learners forced to re-evaluate their own identities and establish their position within the new group (Hills 2001). Winstanley’s “learning shock” theory can further be connected to her “thinking faults theory”, in which each learner experiencing the shock, goes through an array of emotions (2005).

Applying the “thinking faults”, theory to our team formation, the first stage is “catastrophising” in which the group change is perceived to be a much larger and extreme change that will have a huge fall out of impact, than in reality it is (Winstanley 2005). The second stage, is magnifying the negative, in which the team seeks out negatives within the new team and blows them out of proportion superficially (Winstanley 2005). Consequently, we sought out the perceived negatives we’d heard about our new members and instantly dismissed them and exaggerated within “this is never going to work” scenarios.  We then move onto “externalisation and blame”, involving the learners to place inappropriate blame onto the external environment (Winstanley 2005). Our new team became extremely angry towards lecturing staff and coaches, in which we felt pushed into an uncomfortable situation. Moreover, this tension was even present in our interaction with each other, in which several members displayed the attitude of “I didn’t want this or you in my team”. The fourth stage of the thinking faults theory is “emotive reasoning”, which involves members desperately trying to make sense of their emotional responses, even if unexpected (Winstanley 2005). For myself, this involved romancing the previous team initially and considering that potentially we should have stayed as we were and it would have been easier. The final stage is “mind reading”, which is potentially the most damaging of all the stages (Winstanley 2005). Within this stage learners become aware that their frustrations might be shared by others within the team and try to guess what others are thinking about the situation and about them.

The theories of “learning shock” and “thinking faults” (Winstanley 2005), although difficult and frustrating, when applied to our team, go to some lengths at explaining the often unexpected emotional responses experienced. Moreover, this emotive situation, provoked positive discussions the next week, in which we found that most of our emotional responses and reasoning, had been completely unfounded. Consequently, applying Mezirow (1990) “Meaningful learning” theory, we began to establish a new cognitive structure within a new learning environment, forming new norms. Such constructivist theories of team learning ring true here (Gibbs 1981), in which our growing bond and progression through the weeks to the end of the module, can be considered to be a direct output of our construction of a new team learning environment.

Construction

It is interesting to explore through theories, that the response experienced during the formulation of the new team, was an emotive response to a change in learning environment and being placed into the unknown. It is positive that we turned these emotional responses into productive outputs and began building the team. As such, in future team changes and formation, it can be taken forward that such emotional responses are part of the process and can be used to make “transformative action” within team learning (Mezirow 1990).

Gibbs, G. (1981) Teaching Students to learn. Oxford: OUP

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

Mezirow, J. (1990) Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood – A guide to transformative and emancipationary learning. San Franciso: Jossey Bass

Winstanley, D. (2005) Personal Effectiveness. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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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

 

 

Emotional Response – angry

angry

Learning and reflection are critical tools within the business environment. When considering about who we are and what we do in certain situations, can often become idealised. When I personally learn the most from a situation, is when I’ve had a highly emotional reponse to something I wouldn’t expect. As someone who isn’t emotional in the first place obviously this highlights the significance of the incident and the situation. Moreover, I know myself well enough to know, the incident occuring and the emotion being felt aren’t always directly connected, this incident represents something deeper within me.

Within a session today, I was feeding back group work in regards to the concepts of entrepreneurship and when I looked up, several of the boys were laughing at me. Regardless of whether it was something to do with me personally or what I was saying, it effected me. I experience several emotional responses immediately, I felt belittled, I felt cross, I felt humiliated, I felt like storming out, I felt what my group had produced was devalued and I felt disrespected.

This moment kepted on playing in my head through-out the day, so I began to challenge my response to it. I honestly, don’t care what they think or what they think of me. I’m not a people pleaser, for the sake of it. So what was it that rocked the boat? I also considered, that these folk have done it many times, to others. But when it had been done to others, whilst I looked on disapproving, making sure I gave the speaker my full attention and reassurance that I was indeed listening, I didn’t feel so emotional about it. But it did bring up, something that my Insights Profile has highlighted, my inner value system.

I do have a high state of moral values. I have never been bulled, I have a strong sense of right and wrong and how I like to be treated. I have a vision of myself as a business woman and how I will behave and do behave. Consequently, I believe everyone deserves respect in situations and hard work should be valued. I am aware, that just because I believe it should happen, doesn’t mean it will, as are with so many social injustices of the world. But I sleep easy at night, knowing that I am a nice person and treat others well. This might be idealistic.

This clarifies why I objectively felt this was wrong and unjust. But the emotional response means, this went much deeper. I tried to think of other instances within a professional environment I have felt in a similar way. Other instances all cover times I’ve felt my contribution after hard work was devalued, not appreciated and when others don’t live up to my expectations. I often find it difficult to separate myself from my job, my work, my business, my thoughts, myself……they are often one and the same and become entertwined. Therefore, negative reactions, if I can see no logic behind them (i’ve grown to accept and embrace feedback), I take as a personal attack. Disrespect what i’m saying, what i’m talking about, my work, then you are personally and intentionally disrespecting me. This then spirals into a complete disengagement from my part and I struggle to look at the person, in the same way again; “their card is marked”. I also internalise the occurance and it knocks my confidence, for which I personally blame the person for. I then feel a disproportionate amount of anger towards the situation and towards the person, it becomes blown out of proportion.

The previous version of myself would completely disengage from working properly with the person again. We might work together in some superficial format but they will never have my full engagement. This older, wiser version of myself wants to approach this differently and as a code of practice, rationalises all my emotive responses, especially the angry ones. I cling to a mantra I have often tried to embrace, remember this is not about YOU and this is about THEM. They are not personally attacking you, they are experiencing something themselves, that has made them react in that manner. When it comes to boys professionally, I usually think I intimidate them intellectually, experience wise and motivation wise. I have been told I can be intimidating, in terms of the way I come across when talking about things. But my emotional responses, will only make me more intimidating and it is a vicious cycle.

I have to remember…..This is not about you, this is about them. They are learning too. This is not about you, this is about them. They are learning too. And what is learning, if it isn’t about mistakes? I’ve made mistakes in past reactly badly to situations due my emotional responses which I have learnt and reflected on. Therefore, i need to give them the same amount of lee way, to make mistakes in general in regards to their reactions and the way they treat people.

Moving forward…..Grow a thicker skin and don’t hold unconstructive grudges.