Looking back over my learning journal for the semester, a commonly discussed theme which I noticed was the importance of teamwork. The idea of what constituted a ‘good’ team was something which in hindsight I was not explicitly familiar with at the beginning of the course, but became clear to me upon reflection. My ideologies of what represent a good team are something that I believe were reinforced over the course of the semester through my experiences in a Mikes Bikes team. I learnt a considerable amount about how I can find ways for myself to function and contribute best in a team environment. My assigned role as R&D director for the assessment did not carry with it many leadership opportunities, nor many avenues for decision making, but the ‘flat’, inclusive, team I found myself in helped to shape my learning experiences for the semester. Coming into this semester I had surprisingly not encountered very many group assessments at University. Despite my lack of experience in group assignments I have always enjoyed them when given the opportunity and tend to perform well in team assessments. What I have learnt in regards to team dynamics and group work will hopefully follow to have repercussions for later working opportunities due to the corporate business structure that the Mikes Bikes simulation emulates. In the end our team’s Shareholder value increased steadily in each rollover, with only one rollover where it went down, and finished near the top of the overall leader board. For me, this seemed like an achievement, and matched my goals that I had set out for myself at the start of the course, in terms of having a high performing team.
A couple of weeks into the semester, the class was organised into teams and I instantly felt comfortable with the team that I had been assigned to. It became apparent rather quickly that we all wanted to end the assessment with a high SHV, helping us progress through the forming stage of team work quickly, as this aligned our goals (Tuckman, 1965). The shared goals assumed by the whole team seemed to be a constant throughout the semester and something that helped for a cohesive team environment. From the forming of our team, it was agreed that the team would function on the basis of all members contributing equally, with the idea that this would garner the best results. This was explicitly expressed by each team member signing a contingency waiver, which agreed that if it was felt that someone was not contributing their fair share, the other team members would let them know in a constructive manner. I believe that this had two underlying repercussions for the operations of the team. Firstly, it allowed for direct accountability, and increased responsibility from each team member. I will speak for myself here but believe the rest of the team would agree, that this meant that it felt like a cohesive group of people working together towards a shared goal, rather than just people doing things together (Katzenbach and Smith, 1992, Fitzgerald, 2014a). This is due to the fact that all members needed to contribute equally in order for the team to be successful. This inevitably resulted in increased specialisation from each role due to the known accountability, and effectively removed the opportunity for defensive reasoning to occur if someone were perceived to not be contributing their fair share (Argyris, 1991). This can be understood as an inevitable outcome of the inherent accountability which the waiver proposed, by meaning that if problems were to arise, the individual would have to face it as it was, rather than be able to pass on blame. Secondly, this waiver contributed to the need for constant reflection within the group. This occurred at both a group level and an individual level. This was due to the fact that each member had to know how their decisions functioned individually, and also how it contributed to the operations of the team as a whole. For me, this acted as an implicit motivating factor; to always be prepared to contribute, due to the knowledge that not being prepared and able to contribute could have negative repercussions. This also encouraged further group discussion, so as to reinforce how decisions would benefit the whole team and effect the roles of the other members. From this, I learnt that cohesion between each role was very important, due to the fact that decisions could effectively not be made in a vacuum, and that we needed total collaboration as a team to be successful. This was something I seemingly notice early on in my reflections, but which came even clearer as the simulation progressed (Fitzgerald, 2014c). In the future, I believe the importance of team cohesion, constant discussion, accountability and goal setting are ideas I will value in future team work.
My assigned role is interesting to reflect upon because of my early disdain and dissidence directed towards my role as R&D director changed to a somewhat found acceptance as the semester progressed. As I noted several times through my reflections, I often felt as if the responsibilities of my role were too few, meaning that I felt that I lacked the ability to consistently contribute to the team in a meaningful way (Fitzgerald, 2014c; Fitzgerald, 2014d). This represented an anxiety where I felt I was not able to help the team succeed, because I did not see many ways that I could contribute from my role because there did not seem to be many decisions which could be made solely in my role in accordance with my team’s strategy. However, at the overall conclusion of the assessment I would say that it was the inclusive nature of our team operations and discussions which meant that I was able to find some semblance of importance within my role. This revealed to me that, although I may not be able to make decisions in relation to my own department, I understood why this was the case, and caused me to seek other ways to contribute in a meaningful way (Fitzgerald, 2014f). This occurred towards the end of the assessment, where I was able to find ways to offer advice for our subsidiary team, and contribute critically to discussions that our team, even if it did not directly relate to my role. The overall strategy therefore established the framework for the decisions which I did ended up contributing early on, but also allowed me to understand why, later on in the assessment, I ended up with so few responsibilities and decisions to make; when I was simply doing all that needed to be done for my role in accordance with our functioning strategy. I would say that my overall goal and desire to succeed this semester kept me motivated despite my lack of responsibilities, and drove my decision to find other ways to contribute and stay invested in team operations (Christensen, 2010; Fitzgerald, 2014f).
In adherence to our overall strategy, constant discussion and input from all members was required on a constant basis. Constant, deliberative group discussion allowed for team cohesion and knowledge from each member of what they needed to contribute each week in order for the team to be successful. What this ended up representing was a very ‘flat structure’ with no strict hierarchy within the team. This is something which I am very glad happened, because it allowed me to feel comfortable within team discussions, knowing my voice would be heard, and also reassured that all the other members were performing too. This was especially important I believe due to my perceived anxiety that I was not able to consistently contribute due to the shortcomings of my role (Fitzgerald, 2014c). For me, a flat structure made the team experience more enjoyable throughout the assessment, something which is understood as not being an uncommon experience within teams (Katzenbach & Smith, 1992). Another noteworthy point of our team’s structure was that it did not seem as if we operated with an individual, clear cut leader. To me, it would seem that it was the contribution of the sum of all parts and the commonality of our goals that lead to success and helped to keep us cohesive throughout the semester. Collins (1991), however discusses that leadership is a necessary factor for team success, and that an individual leading figure is a necessary component of an effective team. I found myself disagreeing with this proposal early on in the assessment, and based on my experiences, this is something which I would now partly disagree with, though find some common ground with (Fitzgerald, 2014a). Perhaps the combination of our goals totalised to resemble leadership qualities, through asserting a constant drive from all members, elevating our team from being a cohesive unit, rather than just ‘a collection of people’ (Collins, 1991; Katzenbach & Smith, 1992). This means that the commonality of goals and desire to succeed from all members eventuated to ‘lead’ us through the course of the semester as one team, rather than a combination of followers with a single leader. Going forward, the implications I will take into my future career of this are interesting to consider. This effectively reinforces something which I have always considered in the back of my mind; that I would be more inclined to work for an organisation whose goals are something that I can find common ground with. What it also indicated is that I would prefer to find myself in teams which are not led in a strictly in a delegated manner, and are structured in a flat hierarchy. I can only hope that this does not mean that I will encounter problems if I were to find myself in a team which is more strictly hierarchical, which I suppose I can only learn from future experience.
I would see that the structure and functionality of our team was a key to our consistent success. Through the formation of a flat hierarchy, equal discussion was allowed and enabled for each member, which can be viewed as an important component of teamwork (Oakley, et al., 2004). This consequently meant that each member could contribute in a meaningful way, and opened up avenues of discussion from, and amongst, all members of the team. Such a structure also had a direct influence on the decision making within our team. With a broad strategy in mind, decisions were made in accordance with an agreed goal, which was a steady, cost-efficient, and a profit driven firm. Initially I disagreed with the discussions of Mankins and Steele (2006), who suggest that decision making is more important for a successful organisation than strategizing. My immediate dismissal of this idea was made on the basis that I felt I was able to contribute in a meaningful way due to an understanding of a long-term strategy (Fitzgerald, 2014b). This meant that my decision making could be seen to simply be a logical by-product made in line to an overall strategy. This is something that I would only partly agree with at the conclusion of the assessment, due to the experiences late in the assessment. Our strategy helped to keep a very broad ideology in mind in terms of basing decisions on being cost-effective, and profitable, as well as allow for accountability from all parts and a coherence towards a shared objective. My proposed design decisions were made in response to this strategy, meaning that they were planned out early on to be as cost effective as possible in the long run. I would however say that I previously underestimated the importance of reading the market, and how decision making factors into unforeseen circumstances that a broad strategy cannot predict (Baghai, et al., 2009). At the beginning of each week, during discussion of the previous rollover, decision making was key both in terms of keeping in line with our previously established strategy, and also making sure that attention was paid as to what was occurring in the totality of our world. For me, this meant that I had to submit design decisions that would turn out to be cost effective, yet also try and underpin segments of the market which were not occupied by other team’s Bikes. This was not an easy task due to the fact that it effectively took two rollovers for a design decision to take effect; one for the design to process, and another to see if it finally sells well when released (Fitzgerald, 2014d). This required for several variable factors to be taken into account on a consistent basis, such as what the other teams were doing, what our team wanted to spend, and whether or not proposed Bikes were seen to be profitable in the future. What this effectively resulted in was risky decision making, due to the fact that many decisions had to be made with only some prediction as to what the outcome could be, and a lot of unpredictability around how the independent variables could play out and effect a decision (Buchanan & O’Connell, 2006). Risk taking, I noted was something which I was generally adverse to, largely due to an unfamiliarity with it, and an ironic confusion of how to execute risks properly (Fitzgerald, 2014b; Fitzgerald 2014d). When we had a lacklustre rollover, which saw our SHV decrease, risky decisions were made by our team in an attempt to catch up with the top teams, which were non-aligned with our original strategy (Fitzgerald, 2014b). For me, the failure in this rollover represents the importance of sticking with an established, known strategy, yet also underpins the importance of executing calculated decisions in response to external factors, rather than decisions made on a whim without full consideration of what other firms may be doing (Mankins & Steele, 2006; Baghai et al., 2009). Going forward, this has revealed to me how important both the establishment of a long term strategy and on-going operational decision making can be for a team’s success, and something I will keep in mind in future team work.
Late in the assessment, our team went through with a takeover. This was made after much discussion, and agreed upon with the idea that buying another firm could turn a benefit for both teams. Upon purchasing the other firm, we discussed extensively with a few of their members to try and understand what the root causes of their short comings were. It did not seem as if their failures were due to a lack of intelligence or skill from any of their members. Rather, I think that their faults seemed to stem from a combination of several other factors, relating to a shallow understanding of the components of the simulation itself, and a lack of team cohesion, due to some members not contributing to the team (Fitzgerald, 2014e). The way that they operated seemed to contrast my own team experiences, with their team displaying very little discussion, strategizing, or cohesive and comprehensive decision making. I think this is important to reflect upon because the observable team dynamics of their team contrast that of mw own team experiences, reinforcing my learning and understanding of what I believe comprises an effective team. I noted late in the reflections that an effective team required for cohesiveness and contribution from all parts, something which our team had consistently done but this other team had seemingly not been able to achieve (Fitzgerald, 2014f). What this made me consider was how my experiences may have differed had I been in a team which was not cohesive, and my team mates had not always contributed in an effective manner. This is a point which I have tried to reflect upon and unfortunately not be able to conclusively answer. My desire to succeed in this assessment effectively drove me to seek out new ways to contribute for my team when I felt that I had not done enough. This reflects Christensen’s (2010) discussions, by expressing the ideology that success is driven by the desires of an individual. My desire to succeed and constantly contribute would have likely meant that I would have still put in the same effort regardless of the position I found myself in. However, my constant appraisal of a cohesive unit and a flat structure would suggest that perhaps my experiences could have been quite different had I not been part of a cohesive team. Going forward, I can only assume the answer to this will reveal itself with more experience in team work, but that my limited experience would predispose me to preferring flat structured team work.
My experiences participating in a Mikes Bikes team this semester have offered me insight as to what I believe successful team dynamics look like, and how I may best find ways to participate and contribute in team operations in the future. I have seen how important group discussion is for the operations and cohesiveness of a team, and how important it is to have equal contribution, with known accountability from all members. For myself, being able to contribute to a team which is not strictly hierarchical, allowing for equal input and discussion from all members, seems like a very important factor for my own learning, and a motivating catalyst to contribute to my team. I believe having an organisational goal aligned with my own ideologies seems like a strong motivating factor, and something which can allow me to find ways to contribute in a team, even if my role may seem limiting. Having knowledge of an overall strategy seems to hold value as a framework for decisions, but the ability to make accurate decision making in short time frames, in response to external factors, seems equally important, and this will require me to further learn how to execute risky decisions. I will take away a new confidence that I further understand how I can contribute to team in the future, and what aspects of team dynamics can help a group thrive.
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