Learning is an Emancipation of the mind

Stating
Within week five, the business teams were shuffled around and new teams created. Within our learning in team’s module, we had an immediate task to consider group coaching as a tool and our team’s ability to coach itself. The team did not engage with the task collectively and only three people completed it, with the rest not taking part in the task. Consequently, learning as a team did not occur. In comparison, within week 11 we were asked to complete a financial task utilising a variety of formulas to assess a business and construct a financial spread sheet model in which these formulas would work. All members worked on the task and contributed and at the end of the task, after we’d received feedback, we concluded that as a collective we’d learnt by researching, experimenting, from each other, by actively being involved and through requesting lecture feedback. The question is why did team learning occur in one situation and not in the other?

Deconstruction
Such a question considers learning in broader terms outside of those two incidents and to an extent, considers what have the team learnt and how have the team learnt across the whole module? Winstanley defines learning as “acquisition of knowledge/skill that enables the realisation of something new” within “an active process of developing meaning, transferring knowledge into action and developing competence” (2005:3).

I’m sure by now in my reflections, that my learning preferences and styles have been stated, so there is not much value expounding them again, consequently, it is much more interesting to reflect on our team learning preferences, how we are actually learning and the impact of the learning on each individual learner.
To deconstruct the two tasks, task one involved exploring a theory based concept of team coaching in which the team had no knowledge in. As a collective, the task was supposed to motivate us to research the concept, challenge it, interpret an opinion and apply it within our team, providing a conclusion of whether we are able to coach within the team and to evaluate the value of that. We initially identified there was a knowledge gap surrounding team coaching and around the value of coaching overall. This knowledge gap did not provoke collective engagement in the task and to learn more about team coaching, instead within the team frustration was felt, confusion around the concept and aggravation that another theory based task had been given. The lack of knowledge within the group disengaged the collective and the task was completed by three team members, who are not dwarfed by theory based tasks. As such after the task, there was further disengagement as the team felt they’d learnt nothing and still didn’t understand coaching as a concept and the three who had been engaged in the task had expanded their individual knowledge, but struggled to see the benefit for the team as a whole.

Conversely in the finance task, the team identified the huge knowledge gaps in order to complete the task. This involved areas of finance, calculations, equations, theory and spread-sheets, a cross section of skills in which our team are weakest. However, it was not met with frustration and instead our team took a different approach. By this point, we were able to identify strengths within the team and learning preferences, so strategically we exploited them. Theorists were reading the theory to understand the concepts, pragmatists were breaking down the tasks that needed to be done and setting up mini groups to work on and activists kept the momentum and got on with completing calculations. Moreover, we made sure that the learning was spread around and we used it as an opportunity not to simply complete the task, but to challenge and to understand the concepts. We had members working in groups, with one member weaker in that area so they could observe the stronger member and further their understanding. For each calculation we made sure the whole team knew where it came from and we had a few people completing the calculations and then others checking them, meaning that firstly they were right but also, if things were wrong (and they often were the first time, second, third….) we could work out why and put it right as a collective. Then when it came to the construction of the spread-sheet, as no-one was an expert, each group worked with one person supervising, to place their figures in to replicate the equations and calculate the same answers, to try and coordinate the building of the model. As such, every member had a go at inputting on the spread sheet and understanding how it worked.

Consequently, as a collective, we learnt a lot from this task and we would be able to apply the knowledge onto our own business and create a functional model and understand where the appropriate equations came from and why they are needed; something which as a collective, we could not do before. In fact, due to the feedback we requested from Tony Blackwood, we’d be able to complete the task to a higher standard and more effectively. Furthermore, unlike the coaching task, which was instantly discounted, within the finance task, we actually found out within the group we had more expertise than what we originally thought via experimentation and exploring skills and different members were able to bring their own knowledge and experience into the group. Moreover it wasn’t expertise that pushed us through task, but the symbiotic relationship of learning together and motivating each other, within a safe environment. Consequently we have a group of individuals who all learn in distinct ways and attach different interpretations to information, which when brought together brings an added value to the learning experience. Within this task, it was not the completion of the task that was important, but our motivation to make sure we could all do, practice, understand, experiment and learn within the task.

The value in team learning is that it is no longer a process in which I continuously learn in my own preference. I learnt as an individual far more within the team on the finance task, than I did within the coaching task, which I was able to stick to my learning preferences and comfort zones unchallenged. Within the team, we “interact and transform received information” within the team “actively constructing, modifying and revising it” (Nichol 1997). Consequently, as a collective we attach meaning to it but as an individual (and as a team), we benefit from other members revisions, interpretations and modifications, that are outside our sphere of learning (Nichol 1997). Moreover, as a collective we become far more proficient, at adapting our bank of knowledge to new situations, as it is no longer just the replication of one learner, it becomes a collective reconstruction, in which more innovation, experimentation and value is derived to further push the learning process forward (Gibbs 1981).

Theorising
Learning can be described as a mode of “transformative action” (Moon 1999:116). Consequently, lack of knowledge is not an issue itself where there is the willingness to learn. Moon (1999:116) illustrates the five stages of learning in any situation:
1. Noticing – Identifying gaps in knowledge and enhanced self-awareness.
2. Making sense – ordering ideas and thoughts.
3. Making meaning – New material Assimilated
4. Working with meaning – Guiding further learning, accumulation of ideas and manipulation of knowledge.
5. Transformative learning – Application of knowledge onto new concept, self-motivated.
Considering Moon’s theory as a check list, it can be used to consider if learning, either individually or in our collective team has taken place. This linear progression through learning makes pragmatic sense as in order to learn, you need to acknowledge at some point you don’t know something and need to learn to fill a knowledge gap or that you are actually learning something, in order to apply acquired knowledge in the future. Consequently, this model is dependent on learner engagement with learning, but it can provide a check list to enhance learning self-awareness and an acknowledgement of future knowledge empowerment (Van Grinsven, M and Visser, M. 2011).
Applying this model to our two tasks, within the coaching task whilst our team was able to identify the knowledge gap, only three people engaged and learnt from the activity and collective team learning did not take place, as the team couldn’t make sense of the concept and would not be able to apply the concept in future. Conversely, the finance task, team learning did occur and as a collective we progressed through Moon’s model of learning, with members helping each other make sense and meaning out of the concept, concluding with transformative learning as a collective and on an individual basis.

Consequently, using Moon’s theory of learning, as a model to use diagnostically to assess if collective learning has taken place, it is now necessary to consider why in one task the team engaged and why in the other it refused. Whilst it could be pointed out that a variety of factors could contribute to this including that one task was more business related, the other was heavily theory based and one was more practical and tangible. These conclusions are all true, however I perceive that within the team, there was a shift between how learning was perceived within the group and how the team learning progressed within the five weeks. Learning as a process transformed from not occurring collectively at all and being dismissed, to a symbiotic experience embracing a variety of mediums. It is no longer focused on what the learner, within their isolated personal space, chose to learn and became more about experiential learning and learning through other team members preferences, interactions and learning becomes deeper and more unpredictable in direction and scope (Hills 2001).
Learning is now no longer an “individual self-autonomous experience” (Winstanley 2005: 14) and is much more intertwined with the team and individuals within the team’s learning styles, preferences and approaches to learning. Whilst, I’ve already made the point many times, that my team is full of activists, consequently I consider it of more value to consider other theories, instead of Kolb’s learning cycle (1984) and apply them to our team.

Winstanley et al (2003) states there are four distinctive learning orientations, with learners falling either side of the interpretation of each orientation. As with most models and theories, I find them often simplistic and too involved in the process of labelling, where I consider learning is a fluid process, adaptable to situations. Winstanley’s (2003) theory adds value regardless of its simplistic nature as it explores potential motivations behind learning, an issue that may have been behind the initial discounting of the coaching task and the engagement with the finance task. As such, the key is to identify team motivation for learning and to potentially exploit it in future tasks to try to ensure engagement.

Winstanley et al (2003) theory expounds that a learner can be an:
1. Implementer – Either an experimenter, someone who practices their skills in the open or a concealer, someone who actively hides their skills.
2. Lover of learning, someone with an intrinsic love of learning – Either a seeker, someone who actively seeks out new learning opportunities and reflects on them or a sponge, less active and absorbs from surroundings and others.
3. Badge collector, seeking out a qualification or recognition – Either an earner, someone who works hard to earn a qualification or purchasers, someone who believes they have the right to gain the qualification.
4. Affirmer – Either a validator, an active learner confirming their identity or an observer, passive learning role.
Such a theory provides an interesting frame work when considering the motivations behind learning within our team. Initially in the beginning we had a lot of frustrating disengagement with many members seeking to be taught. As such, the team sought out structured learning sessions with lecturers validating the process and only work which had some element of a contribution was embraced. Consequently, as a unit, no value was seen in what we could learn from each other and tasks that whilst not contributing to our degree, did present a significant learning opportunity which would benefit our business. Applying Winstanely’s theory within the coaching task, collectively the team was displayed itself as a badge collector, advancing the motivation to learn as being about recognition only, and as the task formally wasn’t assessed it was collectively discounted. The finance task also added nothing to our qualification, a part from a learning opportunity, yet learners within the team displayed more of an experimenter, seeker, observer and validator attitude. The difference in behaviour and approach to the task is suggestive that the motivation behind learning was different, with the team advancing the collective learning as a priority above completion of a task that wasn’t assessed.

On an individual level, within both tasks and within my education, I am a seeker, a learner who loves to learn. I seek out knowledge not only because I’m interested in the subject and love to learn (although that is a huge part), but because of “cognitive dissonance”, where my motivation to learn stems from recognising a knowledge gap and acting upon that (Festinger 1957). Whereas, individual members in my team can experience a gap, acknowledge it but have no motivation to fill the gap by learning. Moreover, learning within this module has evidenced to me, I am also a validator; I use learning and knowledge to flesh out my identity. Doing well and working hard is a part of my identity, but I didn’t realise until recently that gaining good marks, beating others (and myself from previous times), is so implicitly important to me and is linked tightly to my self-confidence. Whilst being a seeker makes me learn being a validator makes me highly focused and competitive with the application and interpretation of my knowledge.

However, it isn’t just orientation and preferences that I consider to have significantly altered our attitude towards learning. It’s the progression of group dynamics and attitudes itself; thanks to Belbin, insights and working alongside each other, we have a greater sense of each other and our tasks have forced us as a collective and individually to do things outside of our preferences and to take ownership of our learning (Rogers and Freiberg 1994). Consequently, our team has pushed learning as the goal in tasks, experimenting and supporting each other to learn new things within the team and for the team. This core of support that has developed over the five weeks wasn’t present within week one of our new team for the coaching task; where we approached the coaching task as individuals and faltered; we approached the finance task as a team, exploiting each other and the team in order to learn as a collective. Irrespective of the fact the activity wasn’t “mandatory”; the team’s attitude had changed.

Taking learning within the team and from each other a step further, we can apply O’Connor and Seymour model of competences, by which the learners have unconscious competence, conscious competence, conscious incompetence and unconscious incompetence (1990:27). Applying these broad labels, each team member including myself, will have started the module with a fair idea of what they perceived their competences and incompetence to be. However, team learning challenges these assumptions. Taking the finance task as an example, similarly to the coaching task, the initial assumption was that we don’t know how to collectively do it and no-one has the appropriate skill set. However, within the team we found that we did have competences in certain areas that could be utilised in the task, which we can take forward into another similar task. We also discovered incompetence and gaps in knowledge, which provoked research and reflection pre and post task completion. Moreover, working within the team as a collective and learning, brings to light competences and incompetence that you were unaware of, making unconscious, conscious, which you only can learn from learning with other people (O’Connor and Seymour 1990). These incompetence and competences can be exploited within the group to rectify others incompetence and vice versa. This model of learning is very insular but has a distinctive value as it is people inclusive and is a prompt that team learning is about learning about the team and yourself. It invites feedback as a mode of learn in a non-threatening way, as it becomes all about learning for the team.

Perry ‘s(1999) model takes learning within the team further providing answers for the difference in attitude towards the tasks due to differing attitudes to learning, and further advances my point that learning within the team is no longer autonomous and the group dynamic within learning triumphs. Perry (1999: 198) theory illustrates a hierarchy of learners, in which they progress from tutor dependence to independence becoming more confident and competent. A learner starts at the bottom in “dualism”, believing everything the tutor/teacher says is gospel and seeks out learning opportunities from them; they want to be told things (Perry 1999). The learner then progresses to “relativism”, in which they seek out knowledge, but believe everything they read as fact and they don’t distinguish journal articles as opinions (Perry 1999). Thirdly, the learner move into “commitment”, in which the evaluation takes place and they begin to ask questions and assess a sources validity or motive (Perry 1999). Finally the learner, moves to the top which is “deep learning”, in which a learner strategically asks questions, compares sources and makes their own evidenced judgements out of sought out materials; they can criticise and confidently completely disagree or agree (Perry 1999).

Applying this theory to our team learning, we can consider the team began within dualism within the coaching task, in which a knowledge gap was not filled by the tutor and the team was not confident to collectively fill it themselves, they were waiting to be told the right answer, right opinion or direction to go in. When this didn’t happen, the team disengaged. However, within the coaching task, the team had progressed into relativism, where we exhibited confidence to seek out the knowledge we’d needed, but we did take everything we read as fact and we were unable in the spread sheet model to adapt it into our own interpretation for the task. Hence we ended up with spread sheet that whilst functionally and right, was not quite the right fit for the task. Consequently, Perry’s theory provides an explanation of the change in attitude towards learning, based on growing confidence, psychological safety and the formation of a team (Hills 2001).

On a personal level, I consider I was in between commitment and deep learning. My learning tendencies have been very informed by my upbringing, in which I was encouraged to find things out for myself, question and develop an opinion. My law degree, in which most things I read were highly persuasive, biased, evidenced (no such thing as a balanced argument in law) and had the simply motive of convincing the reader of a legal theory or argument, we were taught to not criticise by looking at reputation of sources and research, but whether we agreed with it and why. This involved reading case law, judgements, opposite sides of the arguments and making a judgement through evidenced and reasoned opinion, with a constructed argument and rebuttal. Consequently, I’m very pragmatic and I struggle to go “on gut feeling”; I’m rational, researched and planned. But this is where, having a team learning culture adds value in our business, as alone I’d be too busy learning, formulating opinions and planning to start the business. As such, having learners within the team at different stages on the hierarchy is essentially a bonus, as I get to be immersed with people who do go on gut feeling, immerse themselves in doing and don’t need to understand a concept before acting. This drives my learning forward and I learn things, I wouldn’t in isolation and puts my learning into action, helping others in the team learn by doing and explaining complex concepts tangibly.

Consequently, team learning enables us to grow, try out new orientations and learning from each other becoming more team and self-aware. As a team of learners, we no longer approach tasks with a “narrow orientation”, only accepting new learning if it relates to what they already know and their “cognitive structure” (Mezirow 1990), as illustrated with the coaching task. As a collective we are now more receptive to foreign concepts and new learning (Mezirow 1990), seeing the finance task as a learning opportunity and engaging. Consequently, the team works through as a collective, where other members can help a narrow orientation learner make sense of the new material and adapting it into their learning preference style. Therefore, variety and differences, learning from each, other becomes the motivator behind team learning (Hills 2001).

Construction
By utilising Moon’s model of learning, to distinguish when learning has taken place and when it hasn’t on an individual level and collectively within our team, we will be able to distinguish when learning has taken place. Moreover, we could incorporate the model into our group reflective practice after a task, to assess the extent knowledge has been acquired.

Many of the learning theories above propose why the team successfully learnt as a collective in the finance task and didn’t within the coaching task. Whilst I’m able to utilise learning theories to reflect on the team and on myself, and conclude different things, my personal reflections here enhance further my self-awareness but it is reflections on the team that advances collective learning as the important ideal and a further step, as evidenced in the second task towards a learning culture. But obviously, as just one member, reflecting and theorising on the tasks, I’ve applied theories from my view point and the value I think they add in explaining the difference. However, each theory has the common thread that the value of team learning is ,learning as a team, in which members are motivated to learn by each other and the learning opportunity itself and that everyone’s need to feel active within the learning process. As such, members equally learn from researching, interactions, feedback, questioning, experimenting and doing, alongside from each other. Consequently, team learning becomes more of a journey, in which personal preferences are counterbalanced and cognitive dissonance is approached undaunted as a formed collective. Therefore, the journey is still on going and as a team, we may be at completely different stages within each model by the end of semester two.

References
Festinger, L. (1957) A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance: Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Gibbs, G. (1981) Teaching Students to learn. Oxford: OUP
Hills, H. 2001. Team-Based Learning, Hampshire: Gower Publishing.
Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Mezirow, J. (1990) Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood – A guide to transformative and emancipationary learning. San Franciso: Jossey Bass
Moon, J. (1999) Reflection in Learning and Professional Development. New York: Routledge Falmer.
Nichol, D. (1997) Research on Learning and High Education Teaching, UC OSDA briefing paper 45.
O’Connor, J and Seymour, J. (1990) Introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming: the new psychology of personal excellence. London: Harper Collins.
Perry, W. (1999) Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years: a scheme. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Rodgers, C. and Freiberg. H. (1994) Freedom to Learn. 3rd edn. New York: Macmillan College Publishing Company.
Van Grinsven, M. Visser, M. (2011). Empowerment, knowledge conversion and dimensions of organisational learning. The Learning Organisation, 18 (5), 378-391
Winstanley, D et al. (2003) From Learning to Practice. Report of research funded by Imperial College Teaching Research Grants Scheme, Imperial College, London: Tanaka Business School
Winstanley, D. (2005) Personal Effectiveness. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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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….

Try something new….

As i’ve gotten older, i’ve become less conformist. Yet, I still find myself having habits, within business and otherwise, that I continue to do. Methods of working, that I continue to realise are unproductive, but they are familiar, so I’m going to keep doing them.

One of my objectives, is to do at least one thing a month, I wouldn’t have normally done, within a professional environment. Taken a chance in business; risked it. Go on gut instead of rationale.

I found this Ted talk quite inspirational covering the subject…….

http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days.html

Try something new from today….make every second in business count. Don’t let the decisions be made for you; actively engage and take a chance on others.

Time is money

Most entrepreneurs thrive in chaos; I know I do, especially as I’ve got older. There is something about the urgency and the pressure that gives an excitement. I thrive in my own self-imposed order and organisation, which I can make sense out of the chaos; my pragmatic view of chaos. I like to break the chaos down into pragmatic steps, to move forward, I rarely feel overwhelmed.

How I make sense of the chaos comes simply down to how as an individual I process information, how I reflect on the information and how I utilise the reflection and put it into practice. When I look at a mess or a disaster, I don’t see a hopeless disaster or a lost cause, I see issues, I see the problems, both of which I’m able to organise methodically and most importantly, I see solutions. The key to my learning is my ability to make sense of things and my strategy behind learning. Consequently, it comes as no surprise to learn, that I’m a deep learner. I like to challenge, research, investigate and explore. I’m really active in the learning process and I take forward knowledge to utilise in the future. I can only do this by making sense of what I’ve learnt and what I’m learning in this process. I can’t just take a fact and accept it on face value, I like to understand where it came from, the factors effecting it, how it might change etc.

However, surface learners, although they don’t learn as deeply as I do, they do complete tasks more quickly and often more efficiently. I can get bogged down in researching and end up reading about things that aren’t directly relevant. I always give myself more time within the drafting and research stage of an assignment, than I do the actual writing stage, as I know I have a “process”, I have to go through. This can mean, I end up with A LOT of information and with difficulty knowing what to cut out and which bits are the most important. Seeking to understand something fully often means lengthy time researching without a purpose.

This is also true when I read and listen to information. I cling to details for understanding. When I started to read academic journals, firstly I’d never actually question a lot of what I was reading and I’d take it on board as fact, secondly, I’d read it from cover to cover and almost want to highlight everything as it seemed equally as important. I’ve become much more disciplined at skim reading, seeking out relevance and utilising surface learning strategies. However, this is still an area I’d like to improve on.  This is exactly, how I view my learning strategy, it is a discipline. A compromise between how I prefer to learn and tools that will enable me to be a more effective learner; a more effective entrepreneur.

This is often where the chaos comes in; I work best under deadlines, pressure and often during a crisis, as this stops my natural instinct to research and read around the subject, seeking complete understanding. Under pressure, I’m forced to skim and seek out the important; I research and learn with a purpose. Without the pressure, I struggle to be disciplined, hence I can end up reading lots of articles unable to decide, enough is enough.

Whilst my deeper learning, enables a deeper understanding and wider knowledge bank in the long term and remains a method, I use day to day. I will endeavour to incorporate more surface learning methods, within assignments and focused research. The way I intend to make this into a reality, is by giving time limits when I approach tasks and research. After all time is money and I’m not making any money reading a textbook cover to cover.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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