It was a warm September morning when the call came into the office saying a tsunami had struck in Southampton and there was major damage there. The disaster management team had to respond so Fred (the team leader) contacted the other team members Barney (deputy leader), Bambi (very shy but knows what she is doing), Lara (first ‘real’ experience), Gilroy (old hand), Alaa (knows it all and trying to make his mark) and Martyn (wants to be the team leader) in order to get things moving. He dishes out the duties of each team member but really he could have thought more about who he was asking to do what because Lara really needed a lot of support as this was her first real job with the team. During the meeting Barney kept on trying to tell Fred about new improved methods of doing things and the importance of trying to ensure that the strengths of each member of the team were used rather than just giving out the roles; Fred just wasn’t listening. Bambi and Lara just watch with horrified expressions on their faces because they need someone to support them and they couldn’t see that happening any time soon.
When they arrived in Southampton each of the team members went about their work as allocated but they didn’t really talk to one another so had no idea if they were going to achieve their overall aim (whatever that was); each had their own idea of what they were going to achieve. Fred’s attitude to his workforce seemed to be all wrong for this situation. The emergency element was over, the water had subsided almost as quickly as it had overtaken the part of the city down near the docks so it might have been appropriate for Fred to change the way he was working. Martyn felt he had to say something.
“Fred” he called “do you think we could have a meeting where everyone could speak and discuss the way forward now the immediate danger is over?”
“What purpose would that serve?” asked Fred
“Well then everyone would have an idea of what the others were planning and we would work as a much more effective team” answered Martyn.
Fred paused for a moment the angrily said “Are you questioning my authority and the way I am handling the situation?”
“No, no, no” said Martyn “it’s just that I was reading that to work as an effective team we need to support one another, communicate with each other and that way we will all get satisfaction of a job well done”.
With that he slammed out of the office and started to talk to the others in the squad trying to get them to make a vote of no confidence in Fred’s work practices – this way Fred would be forced to make changes in his leadership style or resign his post.
A little later Alaa found Bambi crying because she did not like the way Martyn was behaving and all the arguing that was going on when their main aim should have been to do with rescuing the people who had almost drowned and searching for those who were missing. Alaa assured her that he would try and make thing right again. He suggests that she should work with Lara who is just keeping out of the whole conflict and she needs support. When Alaa goes to see Fred he finds that Fred, Barney and Martyn are having a rather ‘warm’ discussion about Fred’s role and how in modern day leadership and team-working is attitude to the others is no acceptable – Alaa wades in because ‘he knows best; has read all the books and starred in all the video’s’. The result of this final showdown is that Gilroy is asked to become an advisor to the team leader as he is the one with experience but also the one who has remained cool in the time of conflict. Fred, of course, felt very affronted by this, his feeling were hurt as he had always thought he did a good job and looked after his team. He didn’t realise that the team members did not appreciate his way of working – he could see no wrong in it so this then led him to say “As soon as this job is over I will be quitting and you lot can fend for yourselves.” Gilroy convened a team meeting and asked for ideas on how best this community in Southampton would be served and if anyone had ideas on how best that could be implemented.
The learning outcomes for this module have been met through the story. Fred was not up to date with his knowledge of how to effectively manage a team (Learning Outcome 1). Whilst his authoritarian approach might have been acceptable during the actual tsunami once the waters had receded it was vital to allow leaders to rise from the workforce in order to effect a rescue and by taking a more laissez-faire approach the team might have felt better and more valued. For Learning Outcome 2 the principles of management and leadership can be shown through Fred’s attitude to his co-workers. The whole field of disaster management follows a scientific approach where there are recognised good practices and policies devised to keep personnel safe. Whilst this is good there should be a margin whereby members can bring to the table new practices that could
a) be research based,
b) be more effective,
c) be less time consuming, and
d) be safer.
Learning Outcome 3 was developed through the discussion when Gilroy started asking for suggestions in order that the whole team felt involved in the planning so the work was efficiently conducted and everyone felt able to contribute to the success of the mission.
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Chapter 5 discusses the value of group membership and the formation of effective teams. Fred did not seem to take into account the stags team pass through when they initially get together. The equilibrium of the team will have changed because they had a new member, Lara, join them and some of the others took this as an opportunity to ‘flex their muscles’. Knowledge of group dynamics is vital if you are to work in an effective team. Emotional Intelligence (Chapter 10) plays a large part in working effectively either as a team member or as a leader. By recognising the strengths, weaknesses, traits and learning styles of others make the team work in a more cohesive manner. This chapter also highlights the work of Carnes et al (2004) who said that an estimated 40% of all managers fail within the first 18 months because they fail to recognise the emotions that motivate not only the individuals but the team as a whole. Clearly Martyn had little respect for anyone’s feelings in the way he tried to ride over everyone in team to reach his conclusion.
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Chapter 4 of this book talked about handling team conflict; the authors recognise that while some friction within the team can boost creativity too much can be destructive; p81 gives a diagram of the Circle of Conflict and goes on to discuss the various elements that cause conflict and potential remedies in order to move the team from one of competing to one of cooperation. Chapter 5 goes on to discuss the fostering of a supportive infrastructure in which the team can function and offers a nominal 8 steps approach to implementing teams. It clearly defines the role of the manager and links the discussion to Lewin’s model of change theory but in essence it is about communicating with the team members – unfortunately this seems to be something Fred did not recognise when dealing with his dysfunctional team.
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Chapter 4 discusses the work of Hackman (1990, 2002) where he identified 5 hidden tripwires that can cause team leaders to fail. He says that leaders fail to call the performing unit a team and they manage the group from an individual perspective – this leads to mixed messages leading to team ineffectiveness. Leaders may also create anxiety by exercising either too much or too little authority. Finding the ‘right path’ is probably one of the most difficult things to do. The third tripwire relates to the composition of the team, sometimes it is just a large group who are just working together for a while; the fourth and fifth tripwires talk of ensuring the team has realistic, achievable goals but also that the leader does not assume that all the members of the team have the required competencies. The whole discussion links back to the table in Chapter 1 ‘Team Effectiveness’ and the types of teams one might encounter. In my story the group were certainly a group of people whose individual skills had not been recognised by Fred so Martyn was trying to exert his knowledge forcefully so leading to Fred’s resignation.