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TCPI News Vol. 3, No. 6

December 22, 2003

In this issue:

  1. Individual Contributor or Team Player?
  2. Groups and Systems Theory
  3. Characteristics of Successful Groups
  4. Effective Group Participation

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1. Individual Contributor or Team Player?

It is December.   Perhaps no other time of year highlights a paradox in our organizational systems.  It is the time of year when legions of workers await their bonuses; rewards largely based on overall company performance and subjective and objective criteria of each worker’s individual performance.  Many may be waiting in vain.  A December 17, 2003 poll by Monster Human Resources Forum indicates that 53% of those companies responding will not provide bonuses this year, 23% will give bonuses to all employees, and 20% will bonus some employees.

The paradox lies in the fact that those who either await or yearn for this tangible recognition of individual performance have spent most of the year working as part of a group – some face-to-face, some virtually – and have been continually harangued about the value of “team” effort.

At the center of this dilemma is the manager.   Today’s successful manager needs the knowledge, skill and perception to mold and move teams effectively, while providing sufficient interaction with each group member to support his or her need for recognition.

Organizations, so dependent on the performance of groups, spend little or no resources to ensure that the people who need to lead groups and function effectively within them have some understanding and competence with group process.

The success and failure of many groups comes about from several factors including these:

Dr. Gottlieb, in his book, Managing Group Process, looks at the various ways in which groups interact and how they can be more successful. He looks at the formation of groups and how they relate to an organization as a whole. He also outlines the various skills necessary for being a successful leader as well as a contributing member of a group. By focusing on these issues before forming groups and during the process, the dynamics can be controlled and the success of the group is more manageable.

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2.  Groups and Systems Theory

A manager’s understanding of group process begins with some grounding in general systems theory.  General systems theory, developed by Ludwig Von Bertalanffy in the 1940’s, introduced the concept that systems react and interact with their environments. Systems theory focuses on the arrangement of and relations between the parts of an organization which connect them into a whole, rather than on the individual elements that make up the organization.

In looking at a group in this way, one looks at how each person’s actions affect the whole group. In many instances a single person can affect the group in a positive or negative way, and more often than not that person is the manager.

One of the primary determinants for the positive or negative synergy within a group is the amount of communication among group members. If people in the group are unclear about their role, they will not work towards the good of the group. Another important aspect of groups is that they are constantly changing. Procedures and approaches cannot be fixed in place. Managers need to be aware of effectively managing all the elements influencing the workings of the group.

More information on TCPI’s custom programs.

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3.  Characteristics of Successful Groups

Here are some questions to ask about the groups you either manage or participate in:

  1. Do all members understand the groups’ purpose and believe in the value of the objectives and the ability of other members to contribute meaningfully to the group product?
  2. Is the group is small enough for the members to have general awareness of each other and large enough to contain a variety of knowledge, skills and perceptions to develop a high-quality product?
  3. Is there is a clear definition of the group’s relationship to other parts of the organizational system?
  4. Is there is a clear definition of group members’ relationships with one another?
  5. Does everyone in the group abide by establishes norms, such as:
    • Attending meetings?
    • Speaking in turn?
    • Participating on regular basis?
    • Accepting and completing work assignments?
    • Demonstrating enthusiasm for the group’s work?
  6. Is everyone receiving personal satisfaction from participating in the group’s activities and product?
  7. Is there is sufficient time to meet the objectives?
  8. Is a meeting place is regularly available that is conducive to group process?

Taken from “Managing Group Process”, Dr. Marvin Gottlieb

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4.  Effective Group Participation

In a good meeting, participants' ideas are heard, decisions are made through group discussion and with reasonable speed, and activities are focused on desired results. Good meetings help generate enthusiasm for a project, build skills for future projects, and provide participants with techniques that may benefit them.  Survey results published by the Annenberg School of Communications at UCLA and the University of Minnesota's Training & Development Research Center show that executives on average spend 40%-50% of their working hours in meetings. There are several things that participants and leaders can do to make better use of meeting time.

Some other things that can be done to increase effectiveness of participants are:

Further evidence of the pervasiveness of meetings comes from a recent issue of Fast Company magazine, where organizational psychologist Jon Ryburg says he advises corporate clients to provide twice as much meeting space as they did 20 years In his article, The Seven Deadly Sins of Meetings from Fast Company Magazine, he says, "meetings matter because that's where an organization's culture perpetuates itself.”  
http://Fast Company | The Seven Sins of Deadly Meetings

Hopefully, through looking at our actions in meetings as a participant or a leader, we can make them more productive and effective in the year to come.

We would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

For information on Marvin Gottlieb’s other publications.

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