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Learning Group Formation 15 Steps in an Emergent and Iterative Process

Marco Cassone

February 7, 2013

Dr. Ann Feyerherm MSOD 614 Assignment One Graziadio School of Business Management Pepperdine University


Step Zero Ask Permission 0.

Hi. Id like to lead you through my 15-point vision for Learning Group Formation it builds on Lencioni, Dyer, and others to create a loose roadmap for a largely emergent process. Okay? Thanks. Reality Check What We Know 1.
Alright. Out the door, lets recall Scheins 2nd principle in Process Consultation (1999, p.6)1 Always Stay in Touch with the Current Reality. Lets briey review what we know from our syllabus: Weve all chosen to be here to participate in a process with pre-determined parameters. We have about 24 hours to form 5 student Learning Groups in a student-driven process. The MSOD-stated purpose for these learning groups is three-fold: 1) An accountability system for following our Personal Development Contracts; 2) Collaboration on consulting engagements and projects in the real world; 3) Exchange of learning insights throughout the duration of the program.
This frames for us Lewins (1946) two key components that dene group, interdependence of fate

and interdependence of task 2. As a graduate cohort (shared fate), we are united by the goal of group formation (shared task), by limited resources (time, energy), and by the fear and uncertainty of such a personal process. Collectively addressing these shared factors is a cornerstone of this proposal. Group Check In 30 min. 2.
According to Lencioni (2002), unwillingness to be vulnerable fosters the basis of ve common team dysfunctions, the absence of trust.3 Lets practice an initial exercise of intentional vulnerability by checking in altogether with a brief, 2-3 sentence share. To the degree that we each authentically confront the natural fear and uncertainty in the room, we begin to co-create a safe environment. Decide To Decide 30 min. 3.
Having intently heard each other, lets attempt to collectively set the following three parameters: 1) ground rules yes or no, 2) how long well spend on this (time), and 3) if a capable person (who) or recommended method (how) might help our effectiveness given the limited time allotted. Before we begin, I want to share a Drucker (1974) quote to open up our thinking about concensus:


The Westerner and the Japanese man mean something different when they talk of making a decision. In the West, all the emphasis is on the answer to the question. To the Japanese, however, the important element in decision making is dening the question. The crucial steps are to decide whether there is a need for a decision and what the decision is about. And it is in that step that the Japanese aim at attaining consensus. Thus the whole process is focused on nding out what the decision is really about, not what the decision should be. 4
Lets begin emergent dialogue that invites diverse perspectives, yet is intentional in time and

focuses on the IF, the HOW LONG, and the potential WHO (facilitator) and/or HOW (method) that might serve us (all these prior to discussing ground rules themselves). Addressing WHY a decision is important also creates clarity and sets further context for group decision making. A secondary purpose of this exercise is experiencing the complexity involved in building consensus in participation.
Consensus is not a unanimous decision; this essentially gives all of us veto power. Rather, it is a

process in which everyone has their say, with divergent views fully addressed and resolved by the group; what emerges is a common, shared perspective. Learning when to take time to invest in constructive, passionate debate will also diminish the common human tendency to avoid conict and seek articial harmony, the second dysfunction of groups and teams, according to Lencioni. Group Decision Ground Rules 30-45 min. 4.
We can now proceed with establishing our Ground Rules. More than a rst group decision, this is a chance to practice active listening, to encourage quieter members to speak up, and to mix in healthy conict along the way. Bringing attention to our process reverse engineers against Lencionis third dysfunction feigned buy-in and/or lack of commitment evidence for which is ambiguity. Ambiguity and lack of accountability render ground rules useless and impossible to uphold. Responsibility through Role 15-30 min. 5.
Ground rules unenforced do little; their true power is in their clear and consistent application. How then do we bring responsibility and accountability to our new social contract? Dedicated attention here suggests appointment of a role like a ground rule guardian (title / function TBD). This will be a fellow student whom we empower to hold us accountable in how we treat each other.


Choosing this role recycles us through the steps of participatory decision making, this time including dialogue on what this role looks like, whom we might appoint, and ideas for rotation. Roles & Goals 60-90 min. 6.
Creating internal accountability in the form of roles can raise standards, clarify direction, and allow us to set goals and show results. Katzenbach & Smith (1993) illustrate the inseparable natures of team and performance, pointing to results, performance outcomes, and strong, balanced work ethics as important objectives for teams, not simply the desire to be a team 5. With this in mind, we proactively confront Lencionis 4th group dysfunction avoidance of accountability through the appointment of additional roles to bring integrity to our process. In our next collective inquiry, choosing roles (and who fullls them) can emerge naturally, guided by a few recommendations: Guardian or referee for ground rules Facilitator(s) for tricky decisions Secretary to record votes and decisions Expert(s) in various kinds of assessment Monitor for our well-being and bio-needs Project management to keep us on track Process review so we learn and improve (Additional roles as we choose)

Action Research & Learning 30 min. 7.

This repeat process reveals the cyclical nature of the methodology (see Appendix Illustration). Zooming out to see our iterative patterns of action research introduces the element of rhythm. Breaking down our group formation into a series of accomplishable, repeating cycles will increase predictability, decrease uncertainty, and potentially rejuvenate energy and focus. More importantly, we gain the capacity to assess how were doing and use feedback reports to streamline our process. Checking In Around Group Dynamics 30 min. 8.
Implicated in the above roles are a few key process components still in front of us to address: assessment, group design, and adjustment. These components left undened to emerge as they may bring intentionality to the inherently uncomfortable process ahead. Before continuing, lets re-access what we know: playing both subject AND object in a strangely impersonal assessment and placement procedure can foster volatile group dynamics that bring out less-wise inner-committee members and


increase the likelihood of inattention to results the pinnacle of Lencionis dysfunction pyramid when individual ego seeks attention and/or personal interest at the expensive of collective results. Our reality check offers a chance for vulnerability and reestablishing trust in another check-in round. Embrace or Avoid Afnity? 30 min. 9.
Important for our ensuing dialogue: left to social impulse, groups often form out of personal preference as "an expression of the needs and aspirations of the people who comprise them" (Walton & Hackman, 1986)6. Far more relevant than afnity, a primary output of our learning groups will be providing effective consultation to real organizations, which means taking into consideration applicable skills and/or their development. Basing group formation on student skills or personal preference may be counterproductive to learning, according to a 2004 study by Oakley, et al.: Being part of an ineffective or dysfunctional team may well be inferior to independent study in promoting learning and can lead to extreme frustration and resentment. Students are not born with the project management, time management, conict resolution, and communication skills required for high performance teamwork.7
Continuing from Katzenbach & Smith, the core of team capability is team member ability to use

interpersonal relations to facilitate learning and performance, where team members forge and maintain high levels of camaraderie and leverage personal processes in two ways: 1) to accelerate members ability to learn from each other and from their collective experiences, and 2) to efciently focus members efforts on accomplishing their objectives. This not only drives interdependence, it fosters closer identication with performance results Lencionis primary measure of team function. Assessment 2-3 hours 10.
Sundstrom, DeMuse, & Futrell (1990) have suggested that work-based task forces require high differentiation of expertise among members 8. With this in mind, we turn our inquiry to the host of various individual assessments that can serve our collective process: skills and interest inventories, personality type indicators, work history / core competency review, and evaluation of interpersonal acumen, such as communication, risk-taking, and/or learning styles. For example, we may regard the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS-II)9, found at:


The World Caf 60 min. 11.

Once we have identied what will be important for us to know about ourselves individually, we may consider drawing upon the untapped knowledge of the cohort by appointing additional expert roles to guide both the assessment and ensuing group design components of our emergent process. A potentially valuable intervention to consider here is The World Caf conversational process offered by Brown & Isaac (2001)10, which may let our large group more easily share what matters to us. Group Design 3+ hours 12.
Upon completion of assessment, we are ready to explore how to design our learning groups. According to Dyer, Dyer, & Dyer (2007) 11, four primary determinants of high-performing teams are: The context for the team The composition of the team The competencies of the team, and The change management skills of the team

Here again we must balance emergent collective choice asking, How will we design our groups? with the vast capability and expertise in human resources available in our fellow students. My personal preference is that our group design process strongly considers alignment of how we think, matching how students contribute to and value their learning group experience. This brings to mind the awesome power of championship rowing teams, where team synergy with all paddles united in drive, direction, and symbiotic motion is what produces extraordinary results. Dyer also indicates that strong team culture is a result of interdependency and attention to team chemistry (p. 34). Shortcomings of this Process 2-3 hours 13.
A fair amount of the emergent process presented here risks collective inertia. From Dyer: The greater the number of team members, the more difcult it is to achieve a common understanding and agreement about team goals and team process. Large teams lead to less involvement on the part of team members and hence lower commitment and participation, which in turn leads to lower levels of trust. (p. 33). With this in mind, we may choose to implement some form of process review and/or student role dedicated to improving our decision making as we go. Similar in effect to The World Caf, is the


exercise of breaking into smaller focus groups to promote discussion, increase participation, and shake up large group stagnation. It is here we start to catch a glimpse of how we might use the inherent complexity of our circumstances to our strategic advantage. Competition for Innovative Solution 30-60 min. 14.
If meetings and movies rely on conict to make them interesting (nod to Lencionis fable), lets consider bringing intentional, healthy conict to our process in the form of friendly and mutuallybenecial competition. Here emerging problems can become the basis of creative rivalry between ad hoc task forces all vying to win Best in Innovative Solutions. In this way we take advantage of our complex system by gamifying difcult issues into practical, short term contests aimed to drive collaboration and extraordinary results. Furthermore, small focus groups can provide the space for students to hear each others unique visions on group formation, where they may contribute their a la carte ideas in pursuit of our interdependent search for the best of all possible solutions. Adjustment & Closure 30 min. 15.
Final aspects here will largely depend on the collaborative success of preceding stages. Incorporating action research and generative learning into our process teaches us how to learn, reect, adjust, and improve; and most importantly, how to know when good enough is good enough. GRAND TOTAL 2 full days or 15-16 hours Personal Challenges
I have a strong capacity for ambiguity and emergent processes; they inspire me, however I need

to make sure my drive does not have me dominate, cheerlead, or overparticipate. Focusing on my S.P.I.N.E. components, I realize I can more effectively contribute by rst checking my emotional need to contribute. I can actively listen to how Im being received and adjust my communication style. My creativity will be better received in targeted application. And instead of proving myself when unsure, I can say, I dont know, or not talk; I will write down my thoughts as they come and share later if still relevant and requested. And I hope to listen more and speak less. Cohort more. And Marco less.


Appendix Illustration: Learning Group Formation Action Research Cycle Starts Here


What!We!Know! Current!Results!!

Hold!Individuals! Accountable!

Be!Vulnerable! Establish!Trust!

Identify!Roles! Remove!Ambiguity!


Full!Participation! Whats!Important?!!

Diverse!Input! Healthy!ConClict! Collective!BuyDIn!




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