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«Anna B. Adams D. Christopher Kayes The George Washington University David A. Kolb Case Western Reserve University Working Paper ORBH 12/13/04, ...»

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Teams that have developed are not limited by issues of size, compatibility, cohesion, and psychological safety. Team members operating in later stages have learned to (1) manage the size of the team relative to its task; (2) interrelate by building on strengths; (3) engage in performance without high degrees of cohesion; and (4) trust each other and maintain a sustainable climate of psychological safety.

Inclusion. Teams work best when all members feel included in the group’s process.

Schutz (1958) emphasized that for team members to feel included, they must be in a team that provides structure, connection, and shared beliefs. Structure is addressed by roles and norms on a team. Connections and shared beliefs are formed by communicating about experiences.

Teams in lower stages of development often have team members that are left out of the team’s process, specifically in conversation and decision making. Teams in later stages of development have mastered including all team members by providing structures where everyone can share experiences through conversation.

Learning about roles and role leadership As we have seen, a group of individuals becomes a team through learning about the team’s purpose and learning about other team members. In this evolution, a team begins to organize itself as a system that can adapt to and ultimately master its context. The team accomplishes this through the development of role leadership. Initially, leadership is often centered on one individual, who by virtue of formal position, expertise, or personality has the most power and influence over the group’s activities; group members play individualistic roles focused primarily on their personal needs. As a team develops and learns about its purpose and members, it can begin to share power and influence more widely among group members as they play roles crucial to the team’s mission.

Role leadership in teams is thus a dynamic process where roles played by team members are shaped by the overall team context. A team member’s role is determined by personal characteristics such as personality, preferences, skill, and expertise and by environmental demands such as the expectations of other team members and task requirements. The power to lead the team may shift as it moves through different phases of its work. In the early ideagenerating phase, for example, members who can play opportunity-identifying and problemdefining roles may assume leadership, while in the implementation phase, those with problemsolving and action skills may take over.

This dynamic role leadership is critical to avoid the dysfunctional inefficiencies of teamwork and maximize the potential synergies to be gained by full utilization of team member skills. For example, in their study of 52 industrial work teams from six South Korean companies, Park and Bang (2002) found that when team member roles were matched to the demands of different stages of the work, performance was significantly greater. In his study of 49 educational and work teams, Lingham (2005) found that teams with a single leader had lower performance, less member satisfaction, and a decreased climate of psychological safety.

ELT offers a refined taxonomy of 12 team roles based on learning skills. These are divided into four categories—interpersonal roles, information roles, analytic roles, and action

roles (Figure 3) (Boyatzis & Kolb, 1991, 1995, 1997; Kayes, Kayes, Kolb, & Kolb, 2004):

A. Interpersonal roles deal with building relationships, working with others, or maintaining good working relationships on the team.

1. Leading: inspiring and motivating others, selling ideas, negotiating, and building team

–  –  –

2. Relationship building: establishing trusting relationships with others, facilitating communication and cooperation, and working with individuals inside and outside the

–  –  –

B. Information roles involve managing large amounts of new and complex information.

4. Sense-making: adapting, changing, dealing with new situations, and defining new strategies and solutions.

5. Information gathering: showing sensitivity to and awareness of organizational events, listening with an open mind, and developing and using various sources for receiving and

–  –  –

6. Analyzing information: assimilating information from various sources, making meaning, and translating specialized information for general communication and use.

C. Analytical roles involve creating theories or models from the available information and creating frameworks for future action.

7. Theory building: adopting a larger perspective, integrating ideas into systems or theories, and using models or theories to forecast trends.

8. Working with quantitative data: using quantitative tools to analyze and solve problems and finding meaningful patterns in quantitative reports.

9. Using Technology: using technology and networks to analyze data, organizing information, and building models and simulations using technology.

D. Behavioral roles include deciding, taking action, completing the tasks, and carrying out the goals of the team.

10. Goal-setting: establishing standards to monitor and evaluate progress toward goals and making decisions based on cost-benefits.





11. Action-taking: committing to objectives, meeting deadlines, being persistent and efficient, managing time and stress, organizing day to day activities, and making decisions under time pressure and with limited resources.

12. Taking initiative: seeking out and taking advantage of opportunities, taking risks, being personally involved and responsible, and making things happen.

This taxonomy provides a framework for aligning member roles with contextual task demands as different tasks take priority in the team’s purpose. Fernandez (1988) validated the ELT 12-role taxonomy in a study of the role sets of 110 project team leaders in a high-tech software organization. He showed matches between role priorities and role expectation ratings by the supervisor and team members. In another study, Fernandez (1986) showed that technical supervisors with abstract learning styles did not give priority to the people management roles expected by team members and supervisors, instead focusing on “fire-fighting” (problem solving) and technical expert roles preferred by those with abstract learning styles.

The team role taxonomy serves as the foundation to understand the nature of team context. The next section describes how teams learn about context as well as the relationship between context and task.

Learning about context Context is where a team’s work is applied. Team context includes many things, such as the resources it has available, the individuals outside the immediate team who work directly with the team, formal and informal coaches, and managers. An important aspect of a team’s context is its task (see Druskat & Kayes, 2000). Team task can be described as the way the team goes about dealing with its environment. How a team goes about its task will change as the team learns and develops. One way that a team can manage its task is by matching the role preferences of team members with the demands faced by the team. This process allows members to take on responsibilities that draw on their skills or abilities or provide new opportunities for learning.

As a team progresses through the learning cycle, it becomes more skilled at managing its environment. Even though a group may have little control over its environment, the team can exercise discretion on how it manages and interacts with its environment (Ancona &Caldwell, 1992). In the early stages of team development, teams are likely to be subject to the vicissitudes and immediate demands of its environment. Over time, however, a team will learn to manage environmental demands.

The context demands faced by teams can be organized into four overarching dimensions:

Interpersonal demands: aspects of the task that require working together with members of • the team and with other individuals and teams that impact its purpose.

Information demands: the information and knowledge essential for achieving the team’s •

–  –  –

Analytic demands: the ability of the team to analyze, synthesize, and form a coherent • picture of what the team faces and the information it has available.

Action demands: identifying the skills, deadlines, and tasks that must be completed by •

–  –  –

As a part of the team-development process, teams learn what elements of its environment can be changed and what cannot. Early in a team’s development, it will need to focus on Identifying its available resources and determine the adequacy of those resources.

• Identifying individuals who will have an influence on the team.

• Understanding the nature of the various demands placed on the team.

• Later in the group’s development, it will focus on Identifying team members best suited to dealing with each context demand.

• Managing the multiple demands of its environment while maintaining a focus on its •

–  –  –

Aligning the environment and its purpose through its task, • When considering the match between individual roles and team tasks, it is important to remember that team learning is based on adaptation. Roles are not static, and neither are the specific tasks that individuals will carry out. Individual team members must learn to adapt to a changing context by learning new roles, taking on new responsibilities, and assisting others with these transitions.

If a team can learn to effectively learn from its environment, it can overcome some of the dysfunctional effects of teams. Groupthink, or the drive for internal consensus and cohesion within a team at the expense of effective decision making, may be overcome by effectively interacting with the environment. One reason groupthink arises is that teams cut themselves off too severely from their environment and fail to manage adequately the multiple demands that present themselves in their environment. By actively engaging with the environment and identifying resources in the environment that are essential for achieving the team purpose, teams can learn to overcome excessive cohesion.

Learning about process The process of experiential learning also can be extended to teams as a means to understand the process of team learning. Teams go through this kind of learning, as shown in a study of teams engaged in research and development activities at a major US consumer products company (Carlsson, Keane, & Martin, 1976). Research and development teams provide an important example of team learning because the main product or outcome of such teams is knowledge, and learning is the mechanism to create this new knowledge. The study found that the learning cycle provided an accurate and useful description of the team learning process.

Three important findings related to the team learning process emerged from these teams:

The most effective teams, as measured by supervisors and anonymous observers of the • teams, progressed through each of the four stages of the learning cycle a number of times during the project life cycle. This is an important point: teams do not cycle through the learning process once but complete the loop of learning several times.

The less-effective teams became stifled in their development in several ways. They often • failed to cycle through all four stages of learning. The strengths and weakness of each group were directly related to the stage the team ignored. For example, some teams spent too much time creating new ideas but failed to properly explore the practical aspects of their ideas. Other teams lacked creative ideas but developed great implementation

–  –  –

Teams that were assisted by a trained facilitator or that had team members who could • facilitate were able to improve the learning process by moving the team through each stage of the cycle in sequence. While the cycle of learning may seem like a natural progression for teams, teams are not expected to go through the four-stage process without some form of intervention or knowledge about the process. In other words, while the learning cycle is somewhat intuitive, teams do not necessarily engage in the cycle.

This is a particularly important point for those who are interested in simulations and experiential education. In our experience, intervention usually comes from a skilled coach or trained team facilitator.

When teams successfully navigate the learning process, they are likely to avoid some of the dysfunctional aspects of group life. One such dysfunctional process is the Abilene paradox (Harvey, 2001). This paradox occurs when individuals do not express inner needs and feelings and then act in ways that run counter to the stated purpose of the team. As groups engage in the multiple phases of learning, they become more likely to express multiple viewpoints, explore problems from multiple angles, and engage the diverse experiences of the team members.

Overcoming this tendency to agree results in the expression of multiple viewpoints and ideas.

Learning about action Action taking is the process of achieving the team’s purpose (Kolb, 1984). Action results from the decision-making process as the team executes its plans to assign tasks, ensure responsibility and accountability, and achieve goals. Feedback is critical; it can prevent the team from action that is mindless. It is de-motivating for teams when they fail to act, and it is equally de-motivating for teams when they act mindlessly and without forethought.

A well-developed team will create feedback mechanisms that allow it to alter its course of action. The extent to which a team effectively integrates and operates on these feedback mechanisms will determine its growth and the learning level of the team’s development. Lewin (1948) pinpointed the lack of adequate feedback as the most salient determinant of ineffective team action. Feedback during action taking gives the team an opportunity to reflect on its process, develop new approaches, and then refine actions. Action taking is an iterative cycle.



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