Team Process Review Paper

 "From Conflict to Progress"

By

Rick Marriner

Pepperdine University

March 30, 1998

 

DESCRIPTION

"Man is by nature a political animal." ~ Aristotle (384–322 BC)

I was not going to acquiesce. The room contained six people and one of them was the professor. It was the evening of the group assignments and there was a conflict already. We had cast our silent pieces of paper into the fray. Our hopes of assignment to a group that we wanted were to be decided by a sliver of paper. Five of us had chosen Power and Politics and only three would be allowed to remain, the rest would have to join the under-represented students in the Organizational Development Group. It was around twenty-two hundred hours and we all wanted to go home. Lecia, Russell, Dale and I seemed to be the four vying for the position on the team. Mark Birchfield, as I remember, sat with his arms folded, off to the side, somehow exuding the assured stillness of someone already indisputably on the team. Lecia was quick to offer that we draw lots and see who gets stuck with "Fraze" in the Org. Dev. Group. From a negotiation standpoint, she had already lost. Who would chance their interest to luck? She obviously did not have the escalation of commitment as the other three of us had. Therefore, I turned to trying to persuade Dale what a great group Org. Dev. would be. I even lied and said that, according to the professor, we were supposed to pick groups we knew nothing about. Not that I knew anything about the Power and Politics group, but that I feigned having studied Org. Dev. in my undergraduate degree. Joining Org. Dev. would be going against the professor's explicit wishes if I were to be in ANY group but Power and Politics. This seemed to shift the tide in my favor and I relaxed and took the assured pose alongside Mark to observe how Russ and Dale would settle the dispute. (Lecia had already conceded and joined Org. Dev.) It was close after that I remember Dale starting to waffle. I was overjoyed to think that the group would be Russ, Mark, and I. What a group we would make! However, to my astonishment, just as Dale was beginning to weaken and starting to rationalize what a neat experience it would be to be on the Org. Dev. Team, Russ nonchalantly looked at his watch and then looked back at us saying "Sorry, you guys stay and worry about it, I am going home" (or something similar). You can imagine my shock. I did not know Dale other than that he was the one that accused me of being other than authentic at the weekend work group.

We had little to worry about in the early weeks because the presentation day was seemingly far in the future. Even though we were allotted roughly an hour to meet as a group each Monday night, by the time that hour had rolled around I was too beat to put much time into the group. From what I gather now, Mark and Dale had similar feelings. Week to week we would make grand expectations of ourselves in terms of research and week to week we would say to each other, "Sorry, guys I am just not ready to start putting this stuff together. I need more time to research." Of the three of us, Mark was the one who drove the timetable. He designed a time schedule about 4 weeks from the presentation date that allowed for two more weeks of data collection, a week of slide design, and a week of prep. Besides the five-minute team huddles after the classes, we only had two and a half group meetings.

The first group meeting was not a long one. We met at Mark's work roughly sixteen days before the presentation. We did not have many slides and the majority of the thirty or so we did have were brought by Mark. We story boarded the eighty slides that we intended to build and wanted to talk about as well as discussed each of our subjects. Each of us talked bravely about what we had found in our research and finally planned to meet next week for the real work. I left unsatisfied only two weeks away from the presentation. I would have liked to see less conflict and more progress.

The second group meeting was also quite long. We were originally supposed to meet on Saturday around noon, but I had a trip planned to Las Vegas on Friday that I had hoped to be back from by Saturday morning. As it turned out, I was not back until Saturday around seventeen hundred hours. We finally got together early Sunday afternoon and worked through until twenty-one hundred hours. There was still a bit of conflict on details and on transitions, but we were making progress. Up to this point, we had been mostly working separately researching in libraries and various other sources. Each of us had worked on about twenty-five slides. I brought the pizza and Mark brought the beverages. We spent the first hour just melding the three presentations together, which went smoother than we had expected. We were still missing some slides from Dale, but for the most part, we spent the entire evening learning about each other's part of the presentation and integrating our separate parts into one. A goal of mine was to pass the speaking baton off more than once to each member to keep the presentation alive. It was at this meeting that our first major decision was heated in conflict. The topic was the use of flashy transitions to move from slide to slide. I wanted them and Dale did not. We got right down to almost bickering about it when we looked to Mark to be the tiebreaker. Without any pre-selling, Mark sided with Dale and I knew that I was beat. Learning from this the next time a disagreement came up between Dale and I (as they did quite a bit), I was able to persuade Mark before the topic came to a head so that when the two of us looked to Mark to settle the dispute he sided with me.

The second, and last, group meeting took place on the following Sunday. It was supposed to take place around noon, but Mark and I had to wait for almost two hours for Dale to show up. We were quite upset since it was a very nice day and both Mark and I had better things we could be doing. Nonetheless, when we called at thirteen-forty hours to Dale's work, he had no idea that we were even standing by. He finally showed up at fourteen hundred. Up to this point, I had felt that I was the one that was not holding up my end of the bargain. However, Dale made up for his tardiness by having both the activity and the slides he was supposed to bring in good order. We spent the next hour reviewing the first forty-eight slides and then printed them. The second 48 slides went quicker and were off to the color printer as well. Waiting for them to come out, we polished up our transitions and worked on our activity. The last few things that we needed to do were to put together our teaching points, add our bibliography, and practice the physical presentation. I felt much better leaving that afternoon than the previous Saturday.

The day of the presentation turned out to be quite a hectic workday, and I did not even think about the presentation until sixteen forty-five when I left for class. I was in charge of the agenda and lighting, so I made sure these were squared away and headed over to the campus. Things were going well until we found out that the computer we were expecting to be available was not. Thank goodness that we had the laptop with us or else we would have been lost. At the time, I felt that Dale was being unnecessarily rude to the computer person. This tactic did not seem to be getting us anywhere. Realizing this I went out of my way to be extra nice to the person so that he would continue to help us out and not leave us stranded with incompatible computer gear. This was not the first time Dale surprised me when put under pressure.

The actual presentation went very fast for the first forty-five minutes. So fast that Mark and I intentionally slowed our portion of the presentation (during our tag team on strategies) so that we could have the break fall around twenty hundred hours. However, we slowed too much and could see that our pace was starting to tire the class. The second half was much livelier and our activity was a hit. Dale was able to get people up and thinking about Power. We ended on a good note with our survey results handed out. (It is not surprising that Dale and I both scored the top two point scores on the political survey.) We closed and there were some excellent responses both positive and constructive. The hardest part of the whole night, I feel, was standing up the entire time trying to maintain power positions over the class. My back was killing me!

ANALYSIS

"The fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics." ~ Bertrand Russell (1872–1970)

"A group's potential level of performance is, to a large extent, dependent on the resources that its members individually bring to the group." According to the author of our textbook, the group can be analyzed in a number of ways. If we look first at the abilities each of us brought to the group, we can see where the group got its start. Mark was clearly a very punctual person. He had time frames and time goals set from the beginning. He was also the most mature member of our team, not wanting to go overboard, but still wanted to do a very good job. His rational thought processes kept us on track. Dale was the most computer literate of our small team and brought his experience in presentations at the corporate level to our project. He was also quite headstrong about his own ideas. This caused us to rethink our arguments for and against different options and actions. He was, however, equally conciliatory when it came to progress. He was the devil's advocate, but only as long as it served the group. I brought the big picture to the group. I was able to look at the whole project and fill in the transitions and other macro themes to make the presentation run smooth. I was also able to incorporate things learned from other groups into the project. I was the younger and more creative member who sometimes tended to be on the over zany or more flamboyant side. The other two more conservative members shot down these ideas 80% of the time. (I also brought the lamps).

Robbins makes the observation that; "Work groups are not organized mobs. They have structure that shapes the behavior of members and makes it possible to explain and predict…" Our group had no formal leadership, but I was willing at the end of the presentation to declare Mark the leader. I usually actively strive to be the leader when in a group, but in this case, I feel I had the worst workload of the three of us. It is for this reason that I just did not have the commitment that Mark did to the project. I, therefore, felt that, up to the day before the presentation, it was I (not Dale) who was the social loafer. However, our role identities were clear which allowed role expectations to be understood and reduced role conflict except for where we expected it. If I had to attribute roles to each member of the group based on Robbins portrayal of C. Margerison and D. McCann's Key Roles Model they would be as follows: Mark was the producer, organizer and assessor; Dale was the controller, creator and advisor; and I was the maintainer, promoter and linker.

Nevertheless, the above is not enough to analyze what transpired over the weeks leading up to the presentation and the presentation itself. In our author's presentation of motivation, we studied McClelland's Theory of Needs. "The theory focuses on three needs: achievement, power, and affiliation." First, it should be considered that each member of our team, in my opinion, was above the average on all of these measures. However, relative to each other, we differed substantially. Mark was clearly the highest achiever in the group. He took personal responsibility for the outcome of the group and looked to us for comments on how well he was leading (although it was not in a formal way). He also kept us down the road of moderate risk, with just enough sound and fury to keep things lively, but not crash our computer on the night of the presentation, all of our hard work signifying nothing. I believe Dale and I were neck and neck on the need for power. We were constantly bashing heads, fighting each other's views, and wishing to add our own influence to the situation. As Dolan and Lindsey point out it is not the ends of the political spectrum that determine the outcome, but the decision of the median voter, the voter whose vote swings the decision. Such was Dale and my folly that not on one occasion did we determine the outcomes ourselves, but for the median voter, Mark, we made progress. None of us had a dangerously high need for affiliation since all of us were willing to take sides and make an adversary, even if just for that topic. The only affiliation driven action that manifested was that we all wanted to be affiliated with the best group and this drove our group commitment and team cohesiveness.

Since there was conflict from the very start, it is worth analyzing some of the ways that we handled it. First, I believe that each of us took an interactivist viewpoint. Specifically, this is "The belief that conflict is not only a positive force in a group, but that it is absolutely necessary for a group to perform effectively." We knew we were going to clash and I would have been worried if everyone just went along with each other on every subject. Only once did Dale and I ever get emotionally involved at the cognition stage of the conflict process and even that was settled through Mark's mediation of the subject. In that situation, I am glad I lost, mostly because I did not have the escalation of commitment that Dale had and I was able to write the issue off faster than I believe Dale would have been able to. Our most capable tool for conflict resolution was outright logical negotiation of the issues. I was even able to practice my newly learned tactic of interest negotiation, in which each of the members negotiates with their interests exposed, so that nothing is hidden. This was achieved through asking Dale specifically, "What is it that you need to get from this?" He would answer and then I would then state my interests and we would debate from there the value or non-value of various components until we could find a common interest. Once we found that conjoint interest we could concentrate on finding an answer that best suit the mutual interests. This was a tool to help us find shared ground and debate the end, not the means, of a conflict. All said and done, most of our conflicts were win-lose. Looking back on the meetings, I wish we could have made more win-win conciliations.

TEACHING POINTS

"There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind useless." ~ Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527)

I looked at this project as a test ground for implementing topics we had learned throughout the trimester. If I had to do this again, and if it were for a larger prize (promotion or keeping my job), I would be sure to learn from the following points.

I would have agendas for our group meetings. Each member would have to arrive to the group ready to move through the agenda diligently and with purpose. Social time during group meetings would be curtailed until after the work was done. Each member would be given a list of deliverables that they were to surrender upon the meeting's commencement so that they could be used. Communication of the agenda and assigned deliverables would be made early in each week, and everyone would know what everyone else would be responsible for, and what they were going to take away from the meeting individually. This communication would act as a kind of social lever to get people to produce on time and prevent procrastination.

I would also look to make sure that there is a clear leader. If there is not a clear leader with a title, there has to be someone with the maturity and earned respect to bring order to the group. Looking back, I cannot conceive what the outcome would have been like if there were four of us and the other two were like Dale and I, and less like Mark. Conflict would have held us up on each topic, instead of leading us towards progress. Practically speaking, this is a difficult task on the surface and prone to failure unless the manager setting up the task group is able to read abilities and characteristics of the group from past experience and responses.

On the presentation, I would balance more student activities with the brainy stuff. I felt that the first half of the presentation really slowed the class down and luckily, we were able to bring them back up at the end with a great activity headed up by Dale. If we could have interspersed a few more activities in the beginning with Dale leading them, while Mark and I waxed intellectually, we could have kept people from thinking about their sore rear-ends in the chairs and thinking about our presentation.

I would lastly be sure to find in each subject the enthusiasm that I found in studying Niccolo Machiavelli. I had briefly touched on his works in high school and again in college, but intensely researching the subject and being able to stand in front of a group and share my interest for a subject, allowed me to internalize the learning points that he provided us. If I could find that enthusiasm in every subject I am slated to present about I could speak with the alacrity and heart with which I shared what I had learned about a dead Renaissance politician.

Of the things I would change, there are many. I would not, however, change the group I had. For all of the conflict, they are good people and I would gladly work with them in any capacity again.


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