Removing barriers and addressing tough issues in a group

After last night’s class discussion on addressing the pink elephant in the room, I thought about any barriers I’d be willing to remove to address the tough issues. Generally, I feel like an open book – sometimes too open in a group setting. I have left many group discussions where I think I may have been too personal and revealed too much about myself. I’m quick to discuss my thoughts, feelings, opinions openly in a group setting, especially if it’s among people I know and trust. Even if it’s on a subject that I know may be sensitive or perceived as sensitive, I am still apt to bring up the issue because I know the negative impacts that can occur if one avoids conflict and difficult issues. I often find that it’s when dealing with “real” conflictual issues that meaningful conversation can come about. For example, when my in-laws come in from out of town, I am typically bored in a family setting talking about surface issues like the weather, who won last night’s basketball game, etc. I love family conversations when we’re talking about deeper issues. From a work perspective, I head a committee that selects advising award recipients. I have a member who often plays “devils advocate” and I openly applaud her for her questions. I like it when she disagrees with the rest of the group because it forces us thoroughly examine and provide reasoning behind our choices. Are there times when I sometimes wish she would stop talking for us to be able to move on? Absolutely. However, it’s this program that has helped me focus on the importance of group process and not let my own personal objectives get in the way.

From a facilitator perspective, I help students explore, learn, and meet certain performance objectives to get into the School of Business. I consider myself a facilitator because I’m a third party representative from outside the School of Business that helps prepare students for entering the school. I’m ultimately not the decision-maker and my students consider me someone who they can trust and depend on to help them achieve their goals. If things go wrong, though (which often happens), I hope I have created a safe environment for my students to be able address tough, uncomfortable issues. If you think about it – being a good facilitator is all about good relationship skills. If you’ve developed a healthy relationship with an individual or group, he or she is likely to feel comfortable saying more personal or challenging things in a meeting. At the same time though, I have to respect my students’ right to not engage in a risky conversation that involves their academic future. I try not to judge my students when they don’t come into to see me. I try to see any type of action or nonaction as an opportunity to better understand them while keeping my own emotions in check. It’s empathetic behavior that increases the likelihood that a risky or challenging conversation may happen in the future (The Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook, 2005, pg. 253).

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Healthy Competition Among Teams

The topic of competition among teams was discussed in class last week. I consider myself a competitive person and enjoy games, sports, and activities where I’m part of a team competing against other teams. I spoke last night about how competition can serve as a motivating factor for me within the group, especially if we all have the same performance objective. Competition and cooperation can lead to stronger group cohesion if goals stay task-focused and members are open/respectful to new ideas and ways of doing things. Levi argues “Cooperation, trust, and safety are preconditions for allowing constructive controversy to occur” (pg. 90). Once an individuals brings in personality conflicts to the mix (or hidden agendas), group cohesion is disrupted and issues of mistrust, commitment, and confusion become destructive. In other words, healthy competition needs to stay performance/task based (Levi, 2014, pgs. 96-97).

In our last staff meeting, my supervisor announced that there will be three senior advisor positions opening up in the next few weeks. If a current advisor has had at least three performance evaluations (aka been here 3 years or more), he or she is eligible to apply for the senior advising position. Our staff is made up of about 20+ advisors. The positions are also going to be open to other departmental advisors across the university. Therefore, I imagine there will be a lot of internal competition occurring for three coveted positions even within my own business advising unit. My business advising team consists of 3 people. However, only 2 of us are eligible to apply for the senior advisor position. I’m reminded of Levi’s argument that “Internal competition among teams within an organization can lead to sabotaged work, unjustified criticism, and withholding of information and resources” (pg. 88). Of course, my colleague and I are totally supportive and encouraging to one another and I can’t imagine any of the negative side effects happening that Levi discusses in his chapter. We both get along great, but I wonder what kind of conflicts these career ladder opportunities may have within my department and possibly the university.

I see this type of example being an individual motivating factor that can help the organization overall; however, individual/internal competition can hinder successful teamwork if there are breakdowns in communication and trust within the team.  Levi’s chapters on cooperation and competition provided clarity about healthy vs. unhealthy competition and helped me explore ways of dealing with the negative effects of competition within my own work environment.