My learning this week has been focused on communication, especially after the average results my company received the last two roll-overs. The problem I have been trying to address is how to keep a team motivated to perform when elements of conflict and angst begin to show. From the onset of the competition we have worked extremely well together and have been able to make informed decisions after fully collaborating with one another. This structure has been highly successful, yet I became anxious after a ‘bad’ rollover led to frustration and confusion amongst us as to why certain decisions had been made.
It can be easy to move into a phase of blame, which ultimately leads to destructive group dynamics and an element of distrust. On one hand, group conflict reduces group think, an issue which I’ve previously been trying to conquer, yet on the other hand it can mean too much time is spent debating decisions rather than effectively problem-solving. I started to question the best way to motivate, and whether any action actually needed to be taken or if instead this was all part of the process to sustaining an effective team (Oakley, Felder, Brent & Elhaji, 2004). I was drawn back to a previous reading which noted that “no group ever becomes a team until it can hold itself accountable as a team” (Katzenbach & Smith, 1992, p 11). I had spent the weekend blaming myself for not being conscious enough of cash-flow in the CFOs absence and for not analysing the data enough. I feared team members would blame one another and I was contributing to this by internalising the blame onto myself. It was at this point where I began to understand how quickly negative thoughts can affect the way in which a situation is thought about and approached. It can be difficult to adapt the automatic negative thought processes which occur, yet this had to become a major focus.
In trying to ascertain how to solve this ‘problem’, I focused on the article by Argyris (1991) and the way that the ability to reason productively can be taught in a team. In order to enact such a practice, I reframed the average performance in terms of how much learning we could gain from it. As Argyris (1991) suggested, once we were able to realise how much could be gained, the defence mechanisms of blame and conflict resided and there was no longer a need to use defensive reasoning to try and explain the situation. As CEO, it was my responsibility to emphasise and maintain such an outlook which meant constant focus on removing my own inhibitions about my performance. On Wednesday, I sat like a proud mother duck and watched our team work in the most cohesive, understanding, fun and productive manner than ever before. Everyone accepted that the performance was a result of all of our decisions and not the fault of one individual or one single decision. I truly believe that this was a defining moment in our shift into positivity and optimism and really reiterates the quote from Katzenbach & Smith (1992), on how important accountability as a team is. Though the stresses of roll-over day may have shifted this environment slightly, there was still none of the angst or conflict I had feared going into the week. I know that I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by such a hard working and open team and this made it easy to ensure we moved away from any defensive reasoning. It has made me wonder though, how much harder it could be to implement such a rationale in a ‘real’ organisation where so much more is at stake. As Argyris (1991) points out, it can be very difficult for executives to be open to such a practice because it is a human tendency to react in a way that reduces the risk of being seen as incompetent. Even in relation to our team, it is likely that the flat structure of our company is what made the process of productive reasoning a lot easier. There was less responsibility on individual departments and rather an emphasis on the way that all our decisions are made together. This links back to the motion we set in place from the beginning: we win together and lose together. I keep wondering about how I could have approached the same situation if blame had actually resulted. As I am a person who tends to shy away from confrontation it has made me question the extent to which I would be able to implement such a strategy into a resistant team. I would need to continue working on my inhibitions but I have learnt that communication would still be the key factor in allowing for a successful outcome.
This week I have learnt more practical skills than I could have anticipated and it has really made me appreciate the paper but more so the amazing individuals in my team. I have learnt how important effective communication is but also how detrimental defensive reasoning could be. It has also shown me the importance of reflection, as had I not been forced to sit down over the weekend and critically evaluate myself, I could have easily jumped into a downward spiral of negativity and guilt. Though this week’s particular readings did not seem to have much relevance to my current problem, I found myself with a much better understanding of previous week’s articles and it has given me insight into how important is to recognise an issue before it becomes a detrimental problem.
Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching smart people how to learn. Reflections, 4(2), 4--15
Katzenbach, J. R. & Smith, D. K. (1992). Why teams matter. McKinsey Quarterly, (3), 3–27
Oakley, B., Felder, R. M., Brent, R., & Elhajj, I. (2004). Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of student centered learning, 2(1), 9--34.