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

Stating

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

Deconstruction

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

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

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

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

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

Theorising

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

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

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

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

Construction

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

The Whole Solution

Team interaction and morale was at a low today. The same unspoken motivation issue remain unsaid and the same people put their individual needs and priorities before the team needs. The stark realisation was that within our team motivation is the crucial factor missing; motivation to do, motivation to change, motivation to reflect. There is very little motivation.

The lack of motivation seems to be interconnected to the motivation of the individuals within the group. When one member is despondent, the whole group walks away. There is an air of failure before the task even hits the half way mark when the same issues and mistake reappear. The focus of our coaching sessions and our meetings focus on the “what we aren’t doing” which is demotivating and the “what we should be doing”, which often seems to idealistic and a process that will not only be difficult and challenging but also a lot of effort. We rarely use our coaching sessions to explore why there is a lack of engagement and a lack of motivation or to consider what we will do as a team. Hence we remain stagnant and stuck, dwelling unproductively on negatives. Moreover, our promises within meetings, our strategies, interventions, stay within meetings; they don’t convert into practical action. This lack of movement within our teams is frustrating and demotivating.

Our reflections within our teams remain, as the rest of our team activities, a collection of self-focused individuals. Hence, my reflections have often reflected on my contributions and things that I have control over; things that are tangible to me. Clutterbuck (2013) considers that reflection and coaching shouldn’t just focus on the individual. Consequently, individual reflection needs to go alongside team reflection; developing a whole solution, instead of just identifying separate parts of an issue.

The whole solution view point is crucial to the success of the coaching process; the team as a unit has to buy into the process, utilise the process and see the value. Clutterbuck (2013:18) considers misunderstanding the process and the inevitable demands, “evokes resistance” to the coaching process. Our coaching sessions exemplify this; our coached solutions are superficial and half-hearted and feel forced. Coaching makes the challenging and uncomfortable unavoidable within the session, but it doesn’t enforce without. Once you remove the coaching, you can revert to normal semi-oblivious behaviours.

As a team we wait for outside intervention, considering that we need to be told what to do and someone else may know better than us. Consequently, we feel a lack of accountability within the team, instead waiting for a higher authority. When outside authority doesn’t manifest, the team disengages and falters forward, adding to its ineffectiveness. Our team needs to embrace the Clutterbuck’s (2013) ethos of coaching from within; the team coaches the team and takes accountability for its own behaviour. Not only would this be sustainable and potentially be more effective, it would also change the teams culture. We’d become a team that shares knowledge, supports each other and motivates each other. Consequently, the motivation has to come from within.

Clutterbuck (2007) defines team coaching as “a learning intervention designed to increase collective capability and performance of a group or team, through application of the coaching principles of assisted reflection, analysis and motivation and change”.  Such a definition is idealised and exemplifies what coaching should achieve in practice, but the reality with our team, can be starkly different. Clutterbuck (2013) explores what team coaching “should” do and doesn’t focus on the realities of what coaching actually achieves. Baring in mind, a team like ours has a different culture, different needs, different pace of thinking and different degree of psychologically safety. He advances that coaching should help team honesty, define the team, understanding the environment, understanding processes, identifying performance barriers, managing conflict positively, building a learning plan, build team trust and enable team coaching. (Clutterbuck 2013) This process, in theory should aid a team to blossom into efficiency, effectiveness and productivity as “one unit” (Clutterbuck 2013:19).

Clutterbuck (2013:19) highlights a problem within his own idealism “coaching can only be effective when all the team members have a stake”. What happens when the team members don’t have a stake? What happens if they should have a stake, but just don’t feel a connection or have a vested interest in the topics the coaching is guiding through? To put it frankly, what if some of the participants simply don’t care? If coaching can be compared to therapy, like it often is within the academic literature, then the age old theory about therapy effectiveness is proved true; people can only help themselves if they want to help themselves. Without this motivation, surely, this is a fatalistic stumbling block within our group coaching; we don’t want to help ourselves.

Team coaching for our team must focus on certain aspects of the coaching process, if to have any effectiveness at all. It must concentrate on establishing team honesty; question the hard question of why the team isn’t engaged and motivated to change? This is a crucial question our team needs to address and answer. Second to this, is identifying exactly what our barriers are to performance and working together as a team. Clutterbuck (2013) considers that some great individual performances and some poor performances, can add up to a collective poor performance. Furthermore, the lack of improvement and progress demotivates those who engage with the team and further proves the pointlessness of the team, to the ones who don’t participate. The poor performance also provides places to hide within the team for none performers. Consequently, recognition, reward and team punishment should be based on a combination of team performance and individual performance.

As a team, we need to exploit the idea of the whole solution, instead of concentrating on singular events, performance, issues and experiences. The whole solution, in this case focuses on motivating the team to engage in the process, to care about the value of coaching and to gather the motivation to change. This can only be done if the group addresses, why we aren’t motivated within the process honestly. Otherwise the ineffectiveness will only increase and days like today, will increase in frequency. The whole solution starts with answering the question, why don’t we care about the team?

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….

How do you make a performing successful team within a business?

Does a team make itself into a team from the inside out or can you strategically build well performing team based on Belbin and Insights profile?

This is a question I’ve been pondering over recent days, how do teams form? When I was orginally employed by Newcastle University, I worked within a team of four interns. Individually, we were all very strong candidates and had huge strengths, but as a team, we just didn’t work. There was little commonality and due to our work patterns, we very rarely saw each other. It felt like we were just picked and pushed together and then expected to become a team. As katzenbach (2000) would have assesed us, we were merely a group of people within an organisation, firstly labelled a team and then expected to act like one.#

Consequently, the following year recruitment into our replacement roles, was changed. It was headed by a fantastic member of staff Marek, someone I have thoroughly enjoyed working with. I observed from the outside, the change from the candidates not being as individually strong, but there being a huge shift into team dynamics and learning. He selected not on the basis of the individual candidate but on the basis of how people communicated and worked together to complete a task within an assessment day. The second part of the recruitment was an interview which at the heart of it was reflecting on the task and the team dynamics. Consequently, whilst from the outside our replacement team, individually wasn’t as strong, as a unit they were and they worked much more cohesively together. Our team managed comparible achievements and our NU Apprentice Competition we developed and launched was fantastically successful but the performance came from a group of very strong individuals and not a collective team.

Within that team, I had my most difficulty. I was working alongside someone who was as equally a poor team player as me, at times. The two of us, both alpha females and ruthlessly ambitious, often let our competitive natures and inability to give up control, play out to the detriment of the team. This is the only occasion I can rebutt Bell (2003) and his argument that performance dependes on successful collective performance. In this instance, we managed to deliver just not as a functioning team.

As a recruiter, I asked Marek how he a team together. Especially one where the expection was of enterprise, entrepreneurship and innovation. His response was  “we put a team together who we think will work well together and have complementary skills.” He goes went on to discuss that this is not only an individual assessment but a group assessment and that the practical aspect of the assessment day, enables him to see the roles candidates take, their communication, their ability to respect others and the teams performance. Which leads onto the idea that team formation is not so much about the individual but about the coming together of a unit.

I asked Marek what he felt were the key points of a successful team and how you can develop one within business…….

“But just off the top of my head, here are a few of my thoughts on teams and team learning:

  • ·         Communication –  in business almost everybody has to be able to communicate with others to achieve their objectives. Obviously the better your communication skills the more able you are: to get ‘buy in’ from other team members, avoid confusion etc
    ·         Being adaptable – at certain times people will have to take different roles in a team (whether this is done on a formal or informal basis). The better you are at adapting to different roles the better you will help your team to function effectively. For example in our team, people head up different projects, so for e.g.,  if everybody wanted to be a leader all the time, this would create conflict in the team, and other team duties wouldn’t be completed. Also, if you have a team of adaptable individuals you can react to situations that arise much more easily.
    ·         Working to each other’s strengths – in a good team, people will have complementary skills and abilities. Being able to work alongside each other will allow the team to gain full advantage of these skills
    ·         Motivating – being part of a good team can help motivate each other to push on to achieve greater things.
    ·         Being able to listen and take on other opinions – this is vitally important. At times, individuals will feel that they have the best idea and it’s much easier to complete a task by themselves than to get others involved. I’ve certainly felt this way in the past. However, to work effectively as a team you should encourage others to give their suggestions, as often people will have different ideas and solutions that could be much better. It’s also good to see the bigger picture and whilst a task might be easier to complete on an individual basis, it can damage the team if you do so. By involving the team, even if you all work on your solution, they will learn and develop their own skills, and crucially, they will feel that it’s part of a team effort and that keeps the sense of togetherness and team working going. “

In response to the above, I agree that this sounds like the ideal. But it makes it sound like a team is just an equation of key ingredients and that there is a set formula to enable a productive team. This outlook, I do not share. I don’t believe there is a recipe that spells out what a team should consist of, successfully functioning and performing teams create themselves and do what works for them.

 Katzenbach (2000:118) gives his definition of a team as a “small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” Each part of this definition above, takes time to develop. The complementary skills requires awareness and learning from each other. The common purpose only develops once the team has buy in and the mutual accountability develops, conversely the common purpose stems for the achievement of performance goals. Team development is consequently, a very cyclical process. Such a common purpose doesn’t necessarily stem from performance goals and project briefs, real common purpose stems from the ethos of the team and a revolution within. It is a nod towards, “we want to be the best and complete this in the best way possible”.
Katzenback further expounds this by relating teams to “winning” which is suggestive of a competitive element. The teams I’ve worked best in, is when there has been a competitive element. Often I have began in a poorly performing team which stands in the shadows of teams that outperform. The process then becomes breaking down the team to analyse, rebuilding the team from within, recruiting into the team, building channels and processes that enhance productivity. This enables the team, communication and motivation through setting achieveable and measurable steps forward, engages the team into walking together in the same direction. Then some where along this process, the team bursts from any sort of restrictions it felt before and finally feels empowered.
Such a competitive element forces the team to analyse and ask itself the hard question; how is a team with similar resources and time, managing to achieve so much more than we are as a collective? Furthermore, what is being asked of us, isn’t impossible, there is an expectation we can do this and do this well. I’ve found initially within the process, the tendency is to blame others, to blame lack of resources, lack of funding, lack of man power, to blame anything but the team collective. I use the term “blame” loosely because within a team, blame can never be attributable to one person, which is what blame suggests. When I use blame in this case, I mean blaming the functioning of the team.
Katzenbach (2000: 118) , “the most successful teams shape their purposes in response to a demand or opportunity put in their path”. Successful businesses and indeed successful teams are shape shifters. They are able to respond to the changing market place and they haven’t conformed to rigid structures. They allocate resources on a need basis whilst considering the whole. This follows on from Marek’s point, that within a team people can take on a variety of roles at any one time. This is the eternal truth and success of any team. Hence I’m less likely to bow down to Belbins assumptions and labels, I also consider this is why I found the questions so difficult to answer. Each question and answer out of context or within a different context, I felt could have been applicable. When assessing all the Belbin roles, I felt frustrated in the fact, that I could say “I do them all”. I don’t embody them all at the same time but I respond fluidly to the team, meaning I take on a role when needed.
By assembling a group of individuals on the basis of labels all I can see is that you remain a group of individuals. Consequently, you can make a team more likely to become productive by assembling a certain type of people together, but “something” has to happen within to finally mould the team together into a unit. As Katzenback says himself “nobody but the team can make it happen”. (116) This was illustrated by one of the best professional partnerships, I’ve ever worked in. I worked with a fantastically brilliant businesswoman called Sophie. On the service, we couldn’t be more different and we are as equally as firey, ambitious and you wouldn’t think we’d be able to work alongside each other. However, bizarrely, in time we became a dynamo duo who brought out the best in each other. Our strengths were able to shine and the other was able to compensate for the others weakness. But this partnership didn’t happen overnight, it took a lot of hard work, compromise, getting to know each other and sharing a common purpose and respect for each other. But if we’d simply completed a Belbin questionnaire, on face value, you would not have put us in the same team, as two girls who want to fiercely lead.
So what transformational “something”, will take a team from one that discusses and delegates to one that has a team purpose above the task, discusses and does real collective work together which everyone feels mutually accountable? The difference between a team and a working group.
Katzenbach (2000) puts forwards several necessity elements that help this process…..
  • Collective and individually shared purpose above the task at hand.
  • Specific performance goals.
  • Clear communication and constructive conflict and challenging.
  • Strategic analyse of how the team can best achieve its objectives via using its people.
  • Feedback, recognition and rewards.
  • A compelling context with an established urgency.

I can witness the above happened within my duo working team including Sophie. However, what Sophie and I had from very early on, is that we both are thick skinned and invite feedback, There was an ethos of (often brutal) honesty but it was always contructive. We learnt from each other, from what we liked about each other, to what really annoyed us, to if we felt the other handled a situation badly, to our successes together. But instead of dropping negative bombshells, we supported each other and constantly looked for a path a head together.

Interestingly, Sophie’s manner and personality, the way she communicates can be very intimidating and of deteriment to the team. Her need to always communicate her feelings. This is something we worked on together for the benefit of our wider team, so she could still communicate but in a more motivating and constructive manner, without it coming across as emotional overloading. Where as my manner and personality, was not at fault. I’m a people person and when engaging with people, i can get people onside and my strong points lie in mediation. However, sometimes the things I practically do and my tendency to do things and then try and involve the team after the fact, sometimes without consultation, alienates team members. This is something Sophie helped me work on, understanding not only the need to be able to lead the team and be strategic but how to get the team behind you and involved.

All of these team lessons are vital, but their applicability within my current business team is very limited. The secret to our team is the ability to engage, enable and then empower. But this must come from within.

Teamwork Makes the Team Work…..or does it?

Another trusty tool that is often used within Business and the world of promoting effective teamwork, is Belbin. As always, these tools and profiling come with a disclaimer, most of them are just guides and they are built on self perception only. They have their purposes, as Bell (2013) states if the mix within a team is not right then “team effectiveness may be less than the sum of its individual parts” (45). Katzenbach (2000) takes this one step further, “The price of taking the team is high, at best members get diverted from their individual goals, costs outweigh benefits, and people resent the imposition on their time and priorities” (112).

Therefore this idea of team work as a beneficial tool to enhance team performance, can now be seen and labelled as highly deterimental to performance if the mix of the team isn’t right. Infact it may be better and more efficient, if there was no team at all. It will come as no surprise then, that currently my team working status isn’t advancing in the best way hoped. Infact, the mix of our team could not be more wrong. We clash, we are unproductive, we struggle, we lack commitment and goals.

This week provided the opportunity to think about constructing our ideal teams and the realisation that our teams are going to be split up. Most of the class was in disbelief and horror, where as I felt like putting my hands up and saying, “thank god!”. I’m now looking at the whole team working within project work in a more positive light, especially as i can see there are group members, I’d like to work with from the other team and I think we’d make a solid, strong team. In terms of my own attributes within the team, I genuinely unsure whether I help or hinder. I think I help in the practical sense of getting things done but not in the sense of developing the team.

The belbin tool, provided the opportunity, to consider my role within a team. Whilst i consider the questions and the style of the questionnaire to be restrictive and questionable, I do belief it has some good qualities although I disagree with the outcome. My results labelled my team working contribution as a very high resource investigator, a very high co-ordinator and high plant and specialist. My least preferred roles were shaper and completer finisher. These results were in direct conflict with my insights profile.

The profile, therefore suggested that I love working with people, getting out and about, hate working alone on tasks and my drive and ambition should be questioned in regards to finishing projects and overcoming problems. People who have worked with me know that my drive and ambition can be intimidating at times and I’m not really the sort of person you’d send to network. Moreover, I’d love to be on my own in a room, with freedom and high pressured tasks. However on reflection, I am aware this is my self perception and I am good with people, consequently this could be where the resource investigator comes from. But I certainly don’t feed off them and need people around me. Sit me alone in a room, with lots of high pressured tasks and I’d happily not speak to anyone. In fact, I find working within team  so overwhelming at times, I need, for my sanity to be silent and alone when I get home.

However, my Belbin profile highlights my ability to communicate effectively as my strong points, this has been an area that has often been pulled up within my academic, work and business spheres before as being a strength of mine. Within a team, I see real value in open and effective communication channels, i don’t believe in hiding information on particular levels and furthermore, knowledge is empowerment!

As a co-ordinator, I would agree this stems from my ability to organise and delegate. Although, this is a skill I have recently developed, I used to be a terrible delegater. I used to be one woman, trying to take on the world. As a manager, I have become rather good as identifying talent and trying to empower members of the team via faciliatated personal development. I love developing potential for the good of the team. However, Belbin says that i will often try and off load my share of the work, this is infact the opposite of the way I naturally am. I’m more likely not to offload anywork and to try and do the entire project on my own. It has taken years to learn how this can impact the team and is actually unproductive. Shamefully, I used to believe that no one could do it better than I could. Such arrogance!

I would consider myself as a specialist and i do have a tendency to be narrow minded. Hence I work well within a team where ideas flow and the ethos enables my creativity. If I am in a situation, where the team does not function and I feel I have no control, I inevitably try to stick to what I know or replicate a previous team, both of which doesn’t work as it is the team that needs to take ownership. Bell (2013) comments on this as an issue within organisations in general, it is the temptation to foster a controllable hierachical structure and reject the progression to a collective working environment. The option often seems like one or the other, as a team we can forgot the transitional period that is needed to get into the collective mindset.

An interesting point I picked out of the Belbin interview, that Bell conducted in 2013, was that the misuse of the H.R department within organisations. I remember when I worked at H&M often feeling rather confused about their role. That managers were expected to manage the people and take hugh team impacting decisions, yet HR with the knowledge and specialisation had very little influence on the team.  Moreover, decisions were taken on the basis of a singular top leader with little input from the rest of the organisation. Hence, there was almost no collaboration and the team was simply a group of individuals, working together as paid employees to meet the goals of a top manager. As a manager myself, I early on realised the value of team meetings and getting my staff members involved in how we were going to make these targets happen, experimenting and opening up communications to explains why decisions had been made and where figures came from. Getting my staff on board as a collective, working together, developing a strategy was the root cause of the teams success.

Moreover, as a floor manager, I had to analyse my team regularily and assess the skill and personality gaps. These teams changed regularily due to the turn over of staff in retail so potentially this is why I don’t feel the same type of allure to my current team. Teams change for the benefit of the team.

In fact i’ve worked for many people who have had the belief that they deal with the business and the people are an aside, with a separate manager to “deal” with them. I’ve learnt early on that the people “are” the business, you can’t simply separate the two.

So whilst I take my Belbin results, with a pinch of salt, I have learnt several things about myself and things to take forward. I think as Hills (2001) has highlighted many times through-out hsi book “Team Based Learning”, self awareness is key. Belbin increases your self awareness and awareness with others. But, I don’t believe that good teams stem from answering a quiz and pulling together a team based on roles. People are more complex than that. Not that I think teams happen by accident, but the most successful ones have come out of a lot of hard work and often had shakey starts. The very best teams I’ve worked in have been adaptable and shape shifting…..performance was key and the team altered to unsure high performance.