Why must all good things come to an end? This question is a terrible cliché, but one that is ultimately appropriate given how I feel at present with the recent conclusion of the Mike’s Bikes and MGMT 300 experience. For years I have seen the purpose of school, university, and education in general different to how many of my peers have. The majority of what I’ve been taught has seemingly been caught up in ways to quantify us, rather than deliver an experience that is truly beneficial. As stated in journal 6, “I have never been one to get too hung up over the grades I get, as I believe there is far more to being successful in any aspect of life than some letters you receive on a piece of paper”. My goal at university has always been to learn as much as possible, and I believe this course has allowed me to do so. It has done so to the extent that my entire outlook on different aspects of the course has changed rather drastically. Some of the most prevalent changes have occurred in my attitude towards teamwork, criticism, and risk-taking. I will go through these different ideas individually, describing the transformation I have felt within myself from past to present in regards to each of them. By the end of this essay, a common theme should become apparent that had the most profound effect on me, and something which I will hold as one of the most valuable lessons from my time at university.
My new found approach to teamwork as a result of my experience in this course is the thing I am most pleased about. In general I tend to find a way to get along with most people I interact with and I’ve always been a bit of a people person. Yet this has never translated to a great deal of enthusiasm for working in group situations in the past. In fact, I would avoid them if at all possible. This was most evident during my first year at university. If there was any trace of a team project or assignment I would instantly be turned off by a class, even if it was a relatively interesting paper. One of the main reasons for this attitude could be attributed to the teammates I’ve had in the past. Often I would be stuck with the majority of the work while others would coast, and free-ride so to speak. While the circumstances were difficult, and frequently I would have a great deal of reason to be dissatisfied, I would often react in a somewhat negative manner, showing a sense of resentment toward those that were not pulling their weight. Yet what has become evident now is that these teams I was involved in previously lacked friendly relations, a mutual goal, and faith in one another (something that I was particularly guilty of). This became apparent as the sheer fact that we had to spend so much time with each other; my group was forced to do all these in order to make things work. These things create an environment in which most people feel they can produce their best work. When the situation is such that everyone feels free to voice their opinion, the big picture becomes far more prominent rather than a more narrow perspective (Kolb, 1976). These three aspects of teamwork will be looked into with greater detail.
Becoming friendly with one another is hugely important, as people who don’t know each other well will often be reluctant to provide much input (Gratton & Erickson, 2007). This was evident in the initial group meetings, where many of us just went along with those who were more willing to give their opinions. Such a scenario lacks clear-communication, familiarity and trust; three things in which Weick (1996) states are important aspects of quality teams. We eventually overcame this by not beating around the bush and realising that this was a limitation of ours. By being real with each other, we managed to get past this ‘forming’ stage, managed to get past resistance in the ‘storming’ stage (which came in the form of some members feeling distressed about their roles), and eventually came out the other side in the final, ‘norming’ stage of group development, where we all felt able to express ourselves and our opinions (Tuckman, 1965). Too often in the past I have been in groups where we could not get past the storming stage, often due to stubbornness and a refusal to acknowledge the bigger picture. What I have realised is that it is vital to put egos aside in order for a group to reach its potential.
Having an established common goal is one of the things that I have come to find can make or break a team. As Katzenbach & Smith (1992) explain, successful teams show both collective commitment and accountability in pursuit of a mutual objective. The reason why many of my groups had failed in the past was that we all defined success in different ways. When making decisions it’s important to keep in mind the overall goal at all times and to not get bogged down by small details (Katzenbach & Smith, 1992). If people have conflicting goals it can quickly have a crippling effect on teams. Initially it felt like our team had conflicting goals, as some seemed to place a great deal of value on winning the competition, while others (myself included) simply wanted to learn from the experience. This was worrying, and things seemingly had the potential to go sour. However, what I soon realised was that all of us in fact wanted to learn as much as possible, the only difference was others in the group felt that by learning as much as we could through the experience, we could garner adequate knowledge to win the simulation. While we didn’t quite manage to do so, I believe our impressive performance was due to the fact that we all set out to learn how to become as effective a team as possible. What transpired was simply a reflection of what I had hoped for in the first place. As such, a change in perception was again key in my realisation that success will follow a common collective goal.
What I found changed my perspective of teams completely is the role that trust plays. The environment that becoming genuinely friendly and establishing a common goal creates will go a long way in creating this trust (Katzenbach & Smith, 1992). As noted earlier, I have had problems in the past feeling able to put my faith in people when they seemingly don’t possess the skill or desire in which to contribute. However, I found myself in the unfamiliar situation of being one of those relatively behind in my understanding of the simulation at first, and as such I got a feeling as to what it is like on the other side of the equation. This caused me to feel some distance at first with some of my team members. This could well have been purely my perception, yet when I do not feel I am providing as strong an input as I possibly can, it weighs heavily on me. This perception is likely a reaction of my past experiences, and how I expected my teammates to react was a result of this also. I felt that they wouldn’t trust me to produce quality work, yet what transpired was the opposite. Instead of the resentment I’d personally shown toward others in the past, my teammates instead made it a mission of theirs to bring the rest of us up to speed by showing us the relevant data for our respective roles, how different aspects of the firm will impact other aspects, and so on. This was a real eye opener to me. They saw that even though I was struggling, I was doing my upmost to learn in order to become a valuable member of the team. By the time the simulation had finished, everyone (myself included) was now contributing significantly to the overall decision making process, and had it not been for the willingness of my teammates to show empathy and trust that we were all striving for the same goal, I have my doubts as to whether we would have been as successful as a group. Actions such as this have caused me to reflect on how I react and view teams in the future. Often people genuinely want to help and contribute, though lack the skillset initially in which to do so. I know this will serve me well moving forward in my life.
Criticism/critical feedback is a sensitive topic for most, and before this course I was no exception. It is not in my nature to go out with the intent of finding things wrong with what people say, yet in business this is crucial in order to avoid potential problems that may arise if poor decision making is made. As such, when the peer evaluations were conducted in which our teammates judged our individual performances and contributions toward the team, I found myself in a difficult position. While I felt that some members had performed to a higher standard than others, picking these people out and letting them know how things were in our minds was something that I am not used to. Peiperl (2001) mentions that “people are torn between being supportive colleagues or hard-nosed judges” (p.143), as noted in ‘Journal 6 – looking back on my initial goal’ and this is precisely how I felt. Throughout my upbringing I have always been told to respect the opinions and ideas of others. Picking arguments apart and dissecting what is wrong with it seemed to contradict this mantra that had been a part of my life for so long. This especially seemed counter-productive doing it for teammates; the very people who instinctively one should be trying to support and encourage in order to inspire them to increase their contribution to the firm. Holding this mind-set I have commonly used in the past, I was largely complimentary of my team, as I didn’t particularly want to ruffle any feathers, especially at a point where we were starting to make significant progress as a team and in the simulation. While doing this, I half-expected my teammates to give similar support and encouragement. While I did receive this to a degree, I found my comments littered with ways in which I could improve my performance. This at first was pretty upsetting. I had spent a great deal of time and effort in order to acclimatise myself with the simulation, in the hope of becoming a reliable and valuable member of the team. I felt I was making steady progress, and this feedback at first felt like a bit of a kick in the teeth so to speak. After initially being disappointed in my colleagues, who I had genuinely started to consider not only teammates but friends as well, it eventually clicked as to why they found it necessary to do this. What I perceived as criticism was in fact advice. They were in fact giving me the ability to see where and how I could improve my overall performance. Doing so was not only in my best interests, but there’s as well, as we would live and die as a firm by the collective actions we took. What I was feeling initially was what Argyris (1991) notes often ensues when perceived criticism is handed out; defensiveness. What I was initially failing to realise was that what was being said was an attempt at constructive criticism which had the desired result of working out issues that had been noticed in my performance, as I explain in ‘Journal 8 – Learning through sense-making’. This type of feedback has not been provided in other team based projects I have been involved in in the past, presumably for the very reason as to why I felt hurt in the first place. Without this type of feedback, it is highly difficult to get members to truly speak their mind and acknowledge an issue when they see it. Such action, as noted in journal 8, will “elicit individual reflection” which ultimately helped us “to continue to grow collectively as a team”. Communication like this is vital in the sense-making process of given situations (Weick et. al, 2005). As a result of finally acknowledging my faults and working on them, I garnered a far better understanding of what was going on, and with that I was eventually able to contribute far more effectively to the team, helping us claim a very respectable third place overall and winning our world in the process.
Finally, my outlook on taking chances and risks has been significantly impacted by my involvement in MGMT 300. While I am quite an enthusiastic and ‘out-there’ personality, by nature I can be quite conservative in my decision making. In the past, I will often play it safe and try to protect what I have, rather than put everything on the line for potentially far greater reward. While in other aspects of my life I will often take risks (eg. Living in a foreign country), when it comes to money I will often be rather protective. I would far rather save than gamble and invest it, as I know the value of it and do not want to end up with nothing. However, my experience in the team progressing through the simulation has forced me to change my outlook on risk. It did not start out this way for our team though. Initially during the practice rollovers, our team was very successful following a strategy whereby we positioned ourselves as a niche brand that sold top quality, relatively high priced bikes. We finished top of our world, and when the real rollovers came along we had an inclination to continue with this strategy initially. This did not last long however, as we experienced a few difficult rollovers in which our profit had dropped to unacceptable amounts in our opinion. As such we were faced with a difficult choice: go with the seemingly safe option and stick with our current strategy that had worked in the past, or take the seemingly ‘riskier’ option and embark on a new strategy that could potentially address market needs better. As mentioned in ‘Journal 3’, Buchanan & O’Connell (2006) note that all decisions entail some element of risk. Yet what our group eventually realised was that not taking a risk was a risk in itself also, as it would mean that we were giving our competitors the opportunity to reap the potential rewards on offer while we idly sat by and watched from a distance. We found that what Kim & Mauborgne (2002) noted rang true, that is, that teams will frequently find it necessary to adapt to competition even after a strategy has been established, which was mentioned in ‘Journal 4’. We shifted our focus to producing a more diverse range of bikes at a lower price, which was one of the major decisions we made during the simulation and it went a long way in us achieving first place in our world. While it is easy to say looking back that we made the right decision, at the time we felt it was necessary given the situation we were in. As noted by Daudelin (1996), teams will often react well to a disappointing start and fortunately this rang true in our case. Perhaps what made us reluctant at first was the fear of failure; the fear that we’d pursue the wrong alternative. Yet failure is as much a part of business (and life for that matter) as success is. As Argyris (1991) states, those who don’t feel failure will not make the mistakes that they can learn from. As I mentioned in ‘Journal 8 – learning through sense-making’ Thomas Edison reasoned that every time he failed to make the light bulb work, he saw it as figuring out another way in which not to make a light bulb. As such, how you perceive failure will ultimately go a long way in determining the risks you are prepared to take. With zero risk there is zero reward, and as we have come to find, zero reward is not the objective of most firms. Experiencing this and learning from it has made it really hit home that failure is not something to be feared, as fearing failure is in essence fearing life itself. In life, one must take the good times with the bad, and ultimately it is how you react to this that will determine where you will end up when all is said and done.
Without doubt, MGMT 300 has seen a profound shift in the way I see things. A common word that has been mentioned in all the points I have gone through in this essay is perception. What has become evident throughout the course to me is that a person’s perception is truly their reality. How you interpret everything around you will influence how you go about doing things. Yet with this said, you can influence your perception, as I have found, by aligning yourself with certain ideals and realising that there is a big picture to look at. Only then will we truly see the options we have available, and the autonomy we truly possess over our lives. Time taken to reflect brings light to the endless possibilities in which people can view the world and their given situations. The fact that this course has helped me realise this is something I will always be grateful for. If nothing else, it’s given me the ability to see what was once invisible to me, and that in itself is something I will always be able to keep with me as I go from one experience to another throughout my journey in life.
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