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.

Advertisements

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.

Reflexivity is the new black

Stating

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

Deconstruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theorising

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

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

Construction

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

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

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

Optimising Reflective Practice to use within business

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

   

gibbs

                 

 

Gibbs 1988

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

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

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

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

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

Stage one

Stating

Stage two (external and internal factors)

Deconstruction

Stage three

Theorising

Stage four (external and internal factors)

Reconstruction

 

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

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.

Question everything

riddler

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

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

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

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

My results are as follows;

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

88% intuitive – seek pattern recognition and meaning

12% thinking – Objective, logical, deductive decision maker

33% judging – Seeks organised and structured learning.

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

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

My results were as follows:

Warmth – 2.6

Reasoning – 3.4

Emotional stability – 2.6

Dominance – 3

Liveliness- 2.1

Rule conscious – 2.4

Social boldness – 1.2

Sensitivity – 2.7

Vigilance – 0.6

Abstractedness – 3.3

Privateness – 1.6

Apprehension – 1.7

Openness to change – 3

Self-reliance – 2.8

Perfectionism – 2.1

Tension – 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.