At 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 know.
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.