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Memorandum

 

To:            Donna Shea, Instructor, et all

From:        Philip Fournier

Date:        Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Subject:   WR6: Students helping students through effective workgroups

Ken Blanchardís book, The One minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams, builds on the concepts taught in the first book we read, regarding the need for situation leadership.In this case the situation leadership concept is applied to working in teams.Ken teaches that teams go through four natural stages and in each stage, a management style is appropriate to the developmental level of the team.The stages and the corresponding management styles are as follows:

TDS1, Orientation: The team is enthusiastic, but lacks both experience and direction.Management style must be structuring, with high direction and low support as the team does not have the experience or clearly defined objectives to work independently.

 

TDS2, Dissatisfaction: The team has realized the difficulty of its task and of the differences between the team members.Some progress has been made but morale is low due to the differences of opinion on how to solve problems.Management style must be highly directive and also highly supportive to combat the low morale.

 

TDS3, Integrating: The team has made progress beyond the dissatisfaction stage to beginning to work together effectively.There are still some disagreements, but the team has learned to work through them and the leadership can back off to a collaborating level, offering high support but little direction as the team can usually find its own way.

 

TDS4, Production: This team has arrived to a point of smooth and effective operation with no need either for high support or high direction.Leadership at this point is validating with low direction and low support.

 

The book is good in its context.  I have never worked for a company large enough to do things in groups, so I donít have a lot of experience from that standpoint, but I do volunteer for my trade association and have been on the government relations committee for about six years.  We have an acronym for TEAM; Together Everyone Accomplishes More.  Generally it is a true statement, and Blanchardís levels of team development are somewhat applicable to what I have observed over the years, though our team rarely gets to concentrate on a single project for long enough to move beyond level 2 (dissatisfaction; we have a fair bit of trouble reaching consensus and leadership changes too often). 

 

When it comes to education, in my limited experience teams are generally despised by high-performing students.  This is what I have observed through the eyes of my very smart daughter and her friends, all of them honor students:  High performing students are typically mixed in with low-performers on some kind of a research project. I would suppose the instructorís thought is that a synergy will be developed and in the context of a group, learning will be enhanced.  Instead, what typically happens is the low-performer is only interested in doing the low-performerís typical level of effort.  The high-performer knows this, and also knows they have no authority to demand anything more from the low-performer.   So, the high-performer, not wanting to accept a mediocre grade, ends up doing double duty, figuring that the low-performer is not going to do work to their desired level.  Naturally this results in resentment on the part of the high-performer.  The low-performer is somewhat satisfied since they get the better grade, without having to exert any more than their usual level of mediocre effort.

 

I use teams in the lab during teaching.  This is a result of necessity.  I donít have enough equipment or vehicles to go around so I put between three and four people to a team.  It is also necessary because, even with five or six teams the instructor is run ragged trying to help everybody.  On the occasion that I have one student who is advanced as compared to the rest, I will use him as a lab assistant to lower my work load.  But these teams never have the chance to develop into anything that would resemble Blanchardís teams.  First, because these lab projects are generally one or two nights, there is no continuity of time or experience working together.  Second, I figured it was a good idea to keep teams revolving in case there was a few unwilling participants.  So, I would remake the teams every single time.  Iím not sure that was a good idea, but that is the way I did it and until now had not considered trying something else.  Because these teams were so short lived, I generally did not look for any particular leadership qualities among the four people on the team.  More often than not, if one of the team members had supplied the vehicle (a common occurrence), that person became the team leader so as to protect his vehicle from damage.

 

In the future, Iíd like to try something different, in view of what I have read.Each class is different of course, but if I can put together a set of team leaders with a little more ability than the others, I can set up some teams that would work together throughout the semester.This might give me a chance to develop the teams at least to the level of integrating. ††The trouble I see is that a teacher cannot afford the dissatisfaction period.There simply is not time to risk dissatisfaction inside of the time frame of a semester.My job is to teach automotive and I have a responsibility to insure that each student has the best chance I can give him to complete the lab assignments.But it may be worth the effort to see if the teams can be more productive.I have always taken a highly directive leadership position in the labs.The students are given very little latitude to take their own direction.I have contented myself with TDS1, but possibly I should take the pains to see if it would be worthwhile to the students to move beyond that level.