There are certain things I have learnt from this course that I may not have learnt had I not participated. The first thing I will reflect on is learning how to learn through reflection. The use of reflection frameworks such as Daudelin’s reflective process (Daudelin, 1996) and Kolb’s learning cycle (Kolb, 1976) has really helped me realize the value of reflecting on my own actions. The second thing this course has really helped me with is learning how to collaborate properly and be part of an effective team. This simulation has been a rollercoaster ride for my team and I, we had our fair share of problems, but with hard work and reflection we managed to overcome them all.
Realizing the importance of self-reflection and learning how to learn
Journal entries seemed like a ridiculous thing to do each week especially when they didn’t actually contribute to your grade. But as the semester went on I realized the infinite value I was getting from them. Taking some time out to reflect on what you did during the week and why really helps you understand what you can do a better job of the following week. One exercise that I believe really helped me become more comfortable with the reflection process was when we were made to review our own journal entries for the week. When this was first announced I thought it was a very strange thing to ask of us, but once I had completed the task I realized how valuable it was. I was effectively reflecting on my reflection. Having other people review your journals is also helpful, but I feel that when you review it yourself you really understand what is missing and how you can improve for next time. This really helped me cross the bridge between single and double loop learning. This course has helped me understand that often to solve problems, you cannot only analyse the external environment, but must look inwards as well (Argyris, 1991).
Double loop learning occurs when you look beyond the immediate problem (Argyris, 1991; Synott, 2013). When you are simply looking at the problem and how to solve it in the short term, you may be missing the bigger picture and a larger problem that is brewing below the surface (Synott, 2013). Applying this to our Mikes Bikes situation, when our company crashed in terms of Shareholder value, I acknowledged that we had to look for the root of the problem rather than a quick fix (Thomas, 2013c). Later in the semester I acknowledged that we had to look into the past to figure out how we got to where we were and how we could continue to do well (Thomas, 2013b). This shows that I was starting to engage in the double loop learning process in the second half of the semester, I do think that our efforts to find the real cause of the problem was the reason why we managed to claw our way back up to second place while other companies struggled to get themselves out of the holes they had fallen into. This form of learning makes you strip away any rationalizations you may have made and see the real reasons behind your actions (Argyris, 1991).
Using Kolbs learning cycle (Kolb, 1976), I was able to reflect on why we had the huge crash in SHV after doing so well for so long. As our company started to decrease in SHV I wrote about how mistakes are not always the worst thing (Thomas, 2013c). There are definitely opportunities to learn from your mistakes, however you need to take a proper look at what caused the problem in the first place, which is what reflection is all about (Argyris, 1991). In week 8 after the huge crash I wrote about the importance of staying positive (Thomas, 2013d). In week 8, Peter gave us a clue as to what was causing us problems, we looked into it further and it changed it slightly. Slightly was definitely not enough. So for the next rollover we changed it by a lot (Thomas, 2013f). Week 9 was when, upon reflection, the root of the problems my team was having became apparent: over-confidence (Thomas, 2013g). After this realization my team really buckled down and started looking to the past more rather than simply throwing money at our problems as a short-term fix. We still had confidence, but instead of blindly entering in figures, we started to really concentrate and figure out where we could cut costs. This reflection process that occurred over those weeks helped my team out the hole we had dug ourselves, and also helped us in terms of collaboration. Our meeting became longer and everyone wanted us to succeed so everyone was giving their opinions and there were even debates over strategy happening., showing that candor was starting to emerge on our way to proper collaboration (Ferrazzi, 2012).
Argyris (1991) also used this theory of double-loop learning to explain why people were avoiding learning. Looking closely at a consulting company he found that many people were refusing to learn because they would get defensive about their past actions and the mistakes they made, even blaming these small mistakes on others (Argyris, 1991). The ‘doom loop’ is what occurs when employees have high aspirations of success (and therefore a fear of failure) their personalities can be seen as ‘brittle’, meaning that one small mistake could cause them to crumble (Argyris, 1991). Combining brittle personalities with a defensive reasoning causes major problems in the learning process (Argyris, 1991), which is why organizations and the employees that work for them need to understand the importance of double loop learning and that it isn’t there to embarrass you, just to help you realize that small mistakes aren’t always a bad thing. Reflecting upon my journals I wrote during the semester, much of the time I refer to mistakes we made as a team, not my individual mistakes. Does this mean I was in the ‘Doom Loop’ all semester without realizing it? Much of the time I was reflecting on how my team as a collective could improve, not how I could improve individually to help my team. Is mutual accountability creating this doom loop? We had such a collaborative structure that it was hard to focus on individual aspects. Everyone was helping out in all areas, so obviously when I talked about the problems for the week, I was talking about my team as a collective. The doom loop refers to employees refusing to accept the blame, and therefore never learning (Argyris, 1991). Does this apply for mutual accountability? If everyone has an equal share of the blame, how can you improve individually? Is sharing the blame individually the same as avoiding blame? Mutual accountability is an interesting concept. In my journals throughout the semester I do mention how much I like this concept, and how glad I was that my team seemed much more collaborative than others in the class (Thomas, 2013f; Thomas, 2013d) But is mutual accountability a good thing because it improves team cohesiveness, or is mutual accountability simply a way for everyone to become lazy and complacent because we all take the blame anyway?
Stemming from this idea of mutual accountability and the ‘doom loop’, this course has shown me that mutual accountability only truly works when everyone has an equal input. During the semester I stated that I was having trouble fighting for my own ideas, and that ideas I had mentioned previously that could have helped the team’s performance would be ignored, or drowned out by other peoples ideas (Thomas, 2013d). The fact that team members would come up with the idea I had already mentioned the week after I had originally mentioned it shows that I was finding it hard to make my voice heard. I knew my idea hadn’t been taken into account, so It was had to accept mutual responsibility/blame for something that may not have happened if we had incorporated my idea. Noone had critiqued it, it was simply ignored – here lies the problem with mutual accountability. Everyone needs to feel as though they have done everything they possibly could when the final decision is reached, otherwise being held to blame for somebody else’s mistake could cause tension within the team. Being able to reflect on these points within the simulation and team dynamic, has helped me understand many of the reasons for my actions.
Learning to collaborate properly and be part of an effective team
I like to think I walk into every course at university with an open mind. However, upon reflection I do not think I did this with Management 300. Why was this? It may have something to do with the various group assignments I have had to partake in throughout my four years at the University of Auckland. Unlike the title ‘group assignment’ suggests, instead of teamwork it would turn into more of a solo assignment with free riders clinging onto the grade I worked hard for. I end up doing most (if not all) of the work, and due to this I have never really participated in a collaborative group environment. How would Mikes Bikes be any different? Why was I doing this when I knew it would be a heavy workload if I got a lazy team? Did I really want this kind of stress in my last semester of a four-year conjoint degree? This negative mind-frame is not the way I should have started the course. Just because all of my previous team experiences had been bad ones didn’t mean that this one would be too. One major difference between this course and others was the emphasis put on the importance of teamwork throughout the semester right from the beginning of the course. This may have motivated many people to drop the paper due to busy schedules and not enough time to completely commit to a team. Another aspect that helped with the creation of functional teams was the Solomike activity we had to complete within the first two weeks. This meant that those who were completely incapable of using the software or got too overwhelmed by all the decisions still had time to drop the course before the real work started.
For collaboration to occur my team had to be an effective one. An effective team as is one which is always working together and all members of the team are aware of what the other members are working on at all times (Oakley, Felder, Brent and Elhajj, 2004). Team members should not only all have their own responsibilities and goals, but be there to help out everyone else as well (Oakley et al., 2004). My team decided right at the very beginning that no one would be expected to enter their roles decisions into the simulation by themselves, we would enter all the decisions together so we would all have the chance to add our opinions and views before it was finalized (Thomas, 2013a). Some of the major problems that can affect the creation of an effective and efficient team are: people not trusting the other members of the team (i.e. feeling uncomfortable relying on other peoples work for their final grade) and differing work ethics within the group (Michael, 2012). This first problem is the one I faced due to my previous teamwork experiences at the University. Could I really trust these people to do a good job? Should I be researching their areas as in depth as I am researching mine to make sure they are doing the right thing? This paranoia is not the right approach to teamwork-- as trust and openness are two of the pillars that create an effective team (Michael, 2012). Communication is key, and if there is a breakdown in this team communication, there is no chance for the team to be effective -- meaning it is destined for failure (Michael, 2012).
To start collaborating and being part of a team I had to overcome two hurdles that I had built myself. I first had to overcome my trust issues. I had to trust that the assigned team leader had the best interests of our company at heart. Leadership is something that is needed in a cross-functional team such as the MikesBikes teams because there needs to be someone there to direct the collective effort as well as to ensure everyone’s individual ideas are matching up with those overall organizational goals (Michael, 2012). If everyone goes away and does their own thing, there is a higher chance that things could go wrong, which is why communication is key (Michael, 2012) and a team leader is often needed. Why can’t a team succeed without someone pointing them in the right direction? There is research done that suggests that if the team is a team of effective followers, a leader may not be necessary (Kelley, 1988). Effective followers are those that know their responsibilities and all contribute to a common goal (Kelley, 1988). The majority of my team in the Mikes Bikes simulation were effective followers, however some members of the team were less independent and proactive, which justifies the need for the CEO position. I did worry that the CEO would ditch our collaborative structure as the game went on and become more autocratic (Thomas, 2013a), but when I realized this wouldn’t happen I think I really started to value his input and guidance with the team strategy. I began to trust our team leader. However, it wasn’t only the CEO that needed my trust, but the rest of the team too. In general, I do like to think of myself as a team player as I am an avid sportswoman, but when I walked into the course, the trust I had for my MikesBikes teammates was nowhere near the trust I have for the teammates on my soccer team. In one of my journals I talk about reward induced performance, and my thoughts on how the peer evaluations are affecting everyone’s behaviour. I later stated that I thought my team was truly invested in our performance, not just thinking of their peer evaluation grade (Thomas, 2013e). However further along in the same journal and raise the idea of a weekly peer review system as the workload gets heavier, so people continue to pull their weight (Thomas, 2013e). This shows how I still doubted this collaborative structure and was worrying about how we would go as the decisions got more complex. Would I have to pick up the slack? Could I trust my team to continue to work hard even as the simulation got more difficult?
My less-than-ideal team experiences in the past not only left me unsure of how to cope trust academic team members, but also left me unsure on how to properly collaborate. I was not used to everyone giving ideas and then figuring out a best solution or a way to incorporate everyone’s views into our strategy because I was so used to being the only effective team member. But here I was in a team full of capable people with everyone sharing their opinions. I found myself only critiquing other people’s ideas rather than giving my own (Thomas, 2013d). Was I free riding? Why wasn’t I contributing? Reflecting upon this now, it may have been because I was afraid of people shooting my ideas down. This lack of candor within a team causes slower decision-making and many unnecessary discussions (Ferrazzi, 2012). But as the trust within my group began to build I got more confident and even addressed this problem in one of my weekly journal entries (Thomas, 2013d). Reflecting on the week made me realize that I wasn’t being strong enough with my contributions (Thomas, 2013d). With a group of six, disagreements are bound to arise with the many different opinions on everything. I had to learn to fight for my own ideas and have facts and figures to back them up and win my team over. In the past I was always the only one coming up with ideas for group assignments, so I found it hard to get used to justifying my ideas. However, once I did start doing this, I realized how collaboration actually makes you justify your ideas properly. You don’t want to pitch a weak idea to you team; you need to have good reasoning behind it if you want it to be seriously considered. However being able to speak with candor is also necessary in a collaborative team (Ferrazzi, 2012). Team members can’t be afraid to get shot down or propose ideas that may be wrong (Ferrazzi, 2012). The lack of candor may have been one of the contributors to our poor performance in the middle of the simulation. Ferrazzi (2012) suggests that a way to counter this in organizational teams is to assign a ‘yoda’ in every team meeting. A ‘yoda’ is a person who speaks up when they notice something is being left unsaid, so that it gets dealt with efficiently rather than the team tiptoeing around the issue (Ferrazzi, 2012).
I was very fortunate in regards to the team I was put into for this course. As a result, I had the best team experience I have had at university. I managed to overcome the two barriers that were stopping me from collaborating properly. Due to this, I think I was able to open up and really appreciate everything the course was teaching me and I was able to apply knowledge from my previous three years at university to the simulation and help my team. Mutual accountability can only truly work when all members of the team are completely committed and they have the ability to speak their mind on all aspects of the team’s goals and receive fair but constructive feedback in return (Ferrazzi, 2012)(Katzenbach and Smith, 1992). This shows that teams can only be mutually accountable if they are completely collaborative, and to be completely collaborative, everyone needs to be contributing and commenting on all aspects of the business.
Taking away so much from this course was something I never expected. I have learnt the importance of reflection, which is a skill I will now take with me into the workforce. With the complex tasks I am sure I will face in my new job, having the ability to reflect on my actions will really help speed up the learning process for me. Through reflecting on my experience, I have been forced to question the advantages of mutual accountability in teams in relation to Argyris’ (1991) ‘doom loop’ theory, and how proper collaboration can minimize the relevance of that theory. Does the team have a truly collaborative structure? Or is the team leader just calling all of the shots? The reflection skills I have learnt have also helped me understand the barriers I previously had in place preventing me from being a collaborative and effective team member. The trust issues I had due to less than satisfactory past experiences with team work, and the difficulties I faced when trying to express my own ideas to the rest of the team, were both issues I had to overcome to be able to collaborate properly with my Mikes Bikes team. Collaboration is something that seems straight forward, and is a word commonly associated with teamwork. Although sometimes teamwork without collaboration can be less stressful, when it happens properly you take away so much more from the process. But achieving collaboration is not always as straight forward as it sounds; you need committed, trusting and effective workers who are working towards a common goal (Katzenbach and Smith, 1992). As one of the papers in my last semester I can honestly say that the unique structure of this course has really allowed me to apply knowledge to proper business situations, and I am extremely glad that I got to take part in the simulation.
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