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.
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).
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.
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.