Pepperdine University looking to expand their influence in graduate studies opened their Masters in Learning Technologies. The program was designed to be a one-year degree program that could be accomplished from a remote location. Because of keeping a small class size, they applied a cohort learning model of thirty individuals. The class base provided significant cognitive diversity with student backgrounds. A typical cohort would have a range of teachers and trainers to marketers and designers. It’s one key to being effective was having a full team inclusion into the process.
Unique to the program was that it was a heavily interdependent program. With the majority of the course work being project team-based, a solid teaming foundation had to be established. This began with running an initial kickoff retreat that took place in person. While the event was key to explaining and starting the curriculum, it’s main goal was to form bonds with each of the classmates.
This bond was generated by creating a stress-inducing project that forced team cohesion in a short amount of time. The project asked to have the team build a lego processing center that would automatically separate legos by color. Therefore, this forced small teams to build, to program software, and to test without having a background in any of the skills. What was originally perceived as impossible, pushed the team to gain new levels of confidence in their abilities. This stress-inducing, full team inclusion formed permanent bonds with the team.
If a team member doesn’t provide value to the team, they should not be on the team. They run the risk of distracting the team and degrading the overall team dynamic. For this example, we’ll assume that everyone on the team provides value. Now, if a team member doesn’t feel that they provide value to the overall team, they will not participate. This non-participation will chip away at the team dynamic as well. Leaving the goal of the manager to facilitate a discussion where everyone feels valuable. This helps to enable everyone to then verbalize their ideas.
The overarching goal is to create a high performing environment. One where everyone wants to contribute and have an interdependence amongst its team members. This begins with building a culture of expression of ideas. A culture where there is an intentional and unique bond with its team members. A team dynamic where the focus is on team accomplishment vice self-gain. A team that supports one-another and supplements each other’s blind spots.
When a team member doesn’t feel valued, they simply do not participate. To provide insight into a group of people, they have to feel that they belong to the team. Teams that have cliques or subgroups rarely allow full entry nor due they create an environment where an individual is allowed to join. Also, teams with an oppressive manager destroy the belonging mentality.
If the overarching mentality is that a person doesn’t belong, the team will get a lack of participation. When running cross-functional workshops, it was very common to hear, “what do I know, I’m just a technician.” These events started with the unspoken segregation of the team members. Creativity and progress couldn’t be made until titles and classifications were dropped.
If a team respects one another, they will begin to trust one another. Enabling self-value, ideas come to light. However, that still doesn’t guarantee that team members will verbalize their ideas. There is an additional step where members must feel respected to be able to safely share their personal thoughts. This is achieving a level of trust with the team members that social judgment won’t occur when they speak their mind.
Researchers Alison Reynolds and David Lewis’ focused on successful team traits. Their review of hundreds of Fortune 500 small unit teams found two repeat trends. The first being that each successful team was a cognitively diverse team. Each team member had different life experiences, specialties, and approached problems in a unique manner. Secondly, each successful team was psychologically safe. They felt comfortable amongst their peers and being able to verbalize ideas without a perceived effect on their social status.
Evolutionary insights point out that people are comfortable with strangers. Fish, Bison, birds also are comfortable with strangers but don’t stay together over a long time. However, ants and termites do stick together through generations. Scientists have discovered that ants and termites have markers, typically scent, which indicates if they belong or do not.
These markers in ants act as an equivalent to a national emblem. As with humans, it allows them to grow to an enormous size. The marker also acts as a safety trigger that a member can tell within milliseconds if they belong or not.
Unique to humans is that new members are allowed in. The stipulation is that they must adopt certain new markers to show that they are now members. Think of immigrants entering the United States and their eventual acceptance once they start to speak English or when they join the military to show their allegiance to the new tribe. While they must adopt new markers, they are typically allowed to retain their previous markers. This leaves the question on a micro-scale of what markers does your team have? What must new people adopt to gain acceptance?
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