Tasks within the academical setting are increasingly focused on groups, as groups’ importance, in the professional setting, increases.
Benefits of student-group work include:
- Chance to work on a project that is too difficult or complex for an individual (Lavy, 2017)
- Improvement of employability skills and a chance to practice those (Smith and Yates, 2011)
We got assigned into groups to design a 30 minutes training activity and a 10 minutes theory-based presentation. The purpose of this essay is to reflect on my experiences during this group assignment. In the following, I will discuss my experience following Tuckman’s (1977) stages of group development, because I think, that our group is a great example of the stages. Not because we mastered all of them, but because we experienced most stages stereotypically.
A group is defined as two or more individuals, who temporarily share tasks and goals and interact with each other (Susskind and Borchgrevink, 1999). Thus, during our forming stage, we focused on a common understanding of the challenges ahead of us and our goals. We allocated the topics according to previous experiences, with me focusing on the black box, because of my experience with it, during my psychology studies. In hindsight, this approach was not the best fit, as we would have benefitted from first getting to know each other and our natural team roles. Using Belbin’s (2004) team roles we could have understood each other’s personality characteristics better and, thereby, could have improved our group performance. Moreover, we didn’t see the importance to set ground rules, as two of us had worked together previously and knew each other’s working style. This and that we acted independently due to the allocation of our tasks caused conflicts. We had disagreements about the importance of preparation and group meetings, which we didn’t address at first. However, after several no-shows, we sat down together, seeking out the conflict and thereby reaching the next stage (Tuckman, 1965).
After the disagreement of our working commitments to each other, a conflict appeared. Due to us being conflict-assertive, the conflict was quickly settled but not resolved. The fast settlement was useful, as we were quickly able to focus on the task again. However, the conflict should be fully resolved as teams may re-enter that phase if new challenges arise (Tuckman, 1965). In hindsight, our cultural difference might be the reasons why we did not fully resolve the conflict. I, coming from a low context culture, was mainly focused on the task itself, but I should have considered the context and the relationship part more. Team members from a high-context cultural background might have needed this to open up within the group and to show their full potential (Hall, 1959). Nevertheless, we managed to keep things respectful and polite, while discussing our differences. This is highly important as showing respect is crucial for teamwork (Dubrin, 2011). This enabled us to successfully emerge to the third stage.
During this stage, we established ground rules, to create clarity about the means to achieve our goals. After we settled our disagreement, everyone showed an increased commitment to the group and decisions were made collectively and based on all members’ input. Hereby, our established open communication and the constant sharing of information (e.g. via WhatsApp and shared documents) was helpful. It gave us the opportunity to gain a better understanding of ourselves and others, which can improve group performance (Smith and Yates, 2011). Additionally, I, from now on, will establish ground rules in the forming stage, as they can manage diversity within a team by creating a strong team spirit (Klarsfeld, 2014). From here on, we met more regularly, with everyone showing up and being prepared, which enabled us to develop to the “performing” stage.
The performing stage mainly entails our 30 minutes activity and a 10 minutes presentation, which we previously developed. The session went generally well and as previously revised. However, our timing was not very good. One of our main issues was, that we only focused on not having enough time and not also on having spare time. To think of both scenarios was one of my greatest learnings. In our case, that would have given the participants more time to reflect on the last exercise, making our training more impactful (Kolb, 2014). Not adding the reflective part at the end, after seeing, that we have spare time, also ties in with my role in the activity. I facilitated my part as previously revised. However, even though I was aware of the time, I was not confident enough in myself to add the reflective part. Firstly, I didn’t want to do something without the agreement of my team members. Secondly, I wasn’t sure enough about my own skills to do so. Therefore, I am very glad, that I had the opportunity to practice training facilitation in the academic setting, before having to do it in my professional life.
Reflection on practical situations can improve performance and is a crucial part of the final stage, the group’s “death” (Tuckman and Jensen, 1977; Moon, 2013). Therefore, we used Kolb’s (2014) learning cycle in our training, which emphasises on this, but we didn’t use it for ourselves. Additionally, Gibbs’ (1988) reflective cycle stresses the importance of reflecting on one’s feelings. Something we didn’t pay any attention to, but it can increase self-reflection, which is a critical skill within the educational and professional setting (Smith and Yates, 2011). In the future, I would like to emphasise more on reflecting individually and within the group, to maximise my learnings and to improve my performance.
My main takeaways are:
- To set ground rules in the forming stage and allocate responsibilities according to group roles
- To think about various scenarios that might occur during the training
Overall, I found that the experience of group work was very useful to learn a lot about facilitating trainings as well as reflecting on myself and my role within an unfamiliar group. It showed me, that I have to work on my confidence and ability as a facilitator. Being a strong extrovert, I often take on roles that a stereotypically associated with being confident. However, this group work showed me, that while I enjoy taking charge, it doesn’t necessarily mean I feel confident in all those situations. I hope to increase my own confidence and thereby to become a better facilitator. This will help me in my future work as an HR professional, as I will often facilitate workshops.
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