Sometimes You Just Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

MonkeysHearNoEvilAt this stage in life, I’ve had ample opportunity to experience working in groups and teams. I’m happy to report that most experiences have been very positive. However, like anything else, there’s been a few exceptions to the rule. As I read through Levi’s (2014) material, one particularly unfortunate experience came to mind.

The experience to which I am referring took place over the summer in an abbreviated timeframe. Thus, the time constraint alone provided challenges for the team to adequately build social interactions.  This negatively impacted the cohesiveness of the team and eventually lead to some communication issues and conflict.

The social interactions necessary for teamwork require group cohesion and good communication.  Cohesion comes from the emotional ties that team members have with one another.  Good communication depends on understanding and trust.  When team members do not develop good social relations, they do not communicate well, have interpersonal problems that interfere with task performance, and are unable to reward and motivate one another.

(Levi, p. 22).

As it turned out, our team completed our project by the deadline and produced a very good final product.   However, I believe the experience was made less rewarding to the individual members of the team due to the fact that we did not develop the social relations necessary to promote cohesion and motivation.  For my part, I was heavily focused on the task and though aware of the conflict and communication issues, I believed the time constraints would not allow sufficient resolution to either and chose to focus my energies on completing the project.  In hindsight, I can see how the lack of attention to the development of our social processes ultimately hindered our team’s performance.  If I were to apply Tuckman’s theory on the stages of group development as described by Levi (2014), I would say we went from “forming” to “performing”, attempted to bypass “storming” and “norming” altogether, yet in the end found ourselves confronted with the “storming” stage.  Had there been time to continue with our group work, we may have had some resolution to all of this before proceeding to the “adjourning” stage.  As it turned out, we did not.

This all drives home to me the importance of a good beginning and that time spent up front building social relations in the early stages of group development is time well spent.

When new teams are formed, techniques can be used to help speed their development.  Improving teamwork requires effort at the beginning of the project.  Teams that start off well often perform better over time (Hackman, 1990a).  This is why spending time designing and launching a new team is important.  The aim is to improve social relations, better define projects and plan a team strategy, and create a team contract that articulates goals, roles, and norms.  These starting activities are important predictors of long-term success (Mathieu & Rapp, 2009).

(Levi, p. 53 )

It now occurs to me how little I understood about  the theory behind successful teamwork and how this lack of understanding served to diminish my experience in this particular instance.  Theory is what drives practice.  Theory informs the process, guides evaluation and correction and, ultimately, it is the appropriate application of theory to practice that leads to success in teamwork.  Even though I could identify the problems in this situation, I couldn’t understand necessarily why they had occurred or how to appropriately address them.  Sometimes, you just don’t know what you don’t kWorking_Together_Teamwork_Puzzle_Concept (640x640)now.

As I reflect upon all this, I realize that although I may be a veteran participant in groups and teams, there is plenty of learning to be gleaned on this subject.

Levi, D. (2014) Group Dynamics for Teams, Los Angeles, SAGE Publications.

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5 Responses to Sometimes You Just Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

  1. ppk says:

    Building an atmosphere of trust is of utmost importance in any relationship, especially in groups, where many individuals are concerned. I agree that time has to be spent initially to build connections and cohesiveness. However, time is the culprit sometimes, in not being able to concentrate on cohesiveness, but we have to focus on productivity. That was a very good example, where meeting the deadline was vital, but at the expense of connections. Long-term success would indeed depend on knowing and learning from each other in a group or team.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head with “long-term success would indeed depend on knowing and learning from each other”. I believe that had the group stayed together, we would eventually have needed to confront the issues we were experiencing and build the trust, communication and cohesion needed to continue working as a team.

  2. lsniestrath says:

    I am curious about a few details of your project that are best left for a personal conversation. With that being said, meeting the social needs of groups was certainly evidenced in this project that you mentioned. Out of curiosity, I wonder what would have happened if anyone in the group stopped and said, “We have not worked through this stage yet. We need to go back and do so.” I’ve worked with people who were so filled with anxiety that they could NOT allow themselves to work through the forming and norming stages of the group’s development. What I remember is anxiety and stress regarding any time spent working through the Tuckman’s stages. Just out of curiosity, during the storming stage, did anything come out regarding which stages were missed? (Again, conversation en route to the parking garage!) So, now you know what you’ve always suspected! There’s a reason for taking this class prior to the Capstone class!

    • Great question, Laurie! I think we did not stop to ask ourselves what stage we had missed. I’m not sure we realized we were going through various stages. I have to admit, though – it was a great learning experience and one I have been able to draw from time and time again. Perhaps there’s a paradox in there somewhere! At any rate, it will make for a good conversation as we walk to the car one night. Thanks for your thoughts. As always, they are very helpful.

  3. abryk says:

    I’ll echo a comment made by Laurie made on my blog post – students are never really taught about the stages of group development. Look at our class, for example. Many of us had not heard of Tuckman’s theory prior to this class or prior to beginning this program. We are very much taught that the end product is most important and when there is a good outcome (project-wise), there is little inclination to explore what went wrong. It’s only when a project ends poorly that we take the time to reflect and even then, not all group members are willing. Of course, not going through the stages means that if this group were to reconvene on another project, all members may enter into already frustrated and the group may fall back into the same bad habits, with skipping stages and focus on the endgame being their “norm.” I hope that if this were to happen, you’d feel comfortable sharing these stages with your group in hopes of creating a healthier structure and environment!

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