Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Theory vs. Practice

When I used to teach college courses--so long ago now it seems hard to remember when--I used to pride myself on facilitating really well-structured and productive group projects. Specifically, in the capstone course I taught on business and organizational communications, I helped students get over their loathing of the group project and see the strengths of collaborative work, not to mention the need for those skills in most workplaces. By the time I was done I had working strategies for all the personalities:
  • The Neurotic type-A control freak who blamed everyone else for not working as hard or as well as him or her.
  • The character-disorder-slacker who just blamed everyone else, but didn't do anything.
  • The "delegater" who seemed to be engaged, but was really just about getting everyone else to do the work.
  • The mouse who had many (good) ideas, but only did minutiae handed to him or her and never took a leadership role (and often ended up writing the final report).
  • The blow-hard who had lots of (bad) ideas, but didn't have any ability to discern the good from the bad, but who cared at least he (usually he) got to hear himself speak.
  • And even the well-balanced, smart collaborative types who helped everyone be better but had not idea they had that skill.
And so I now find it ironic to be in a group-type setting that is just about as dysfunctional as many a student group and, even worse, recognizing that I am playing a leading role! The real problem is that time has become an enemy and unlike a class where the learning process is just as important as the product, here it is all about the product.

Alas, I am left dreaming about the next time--no, no, let there never be another next time! But there will be. Consequently, I have been returning to my teaching days and trying to remember all the things I tried to help my students learn.
  • The need for clear expectations up front for all group members. An agreement as to what happens when those expectations are not met.
  • A recognition that there is more than one way to get to the end and that everyone has different skills in helping get there (but that it is also important to diversify those skills in the long run--it isn't all about the short run).
  • That groups more often fail because of the interplay of personalities than because of the failure of an individual and so ongoing group and individual assessment are both critical.
  • That groups can fail because of individuals and there needs to be a mechanism to let the group go on without the individual and not be penalized for that (the group that is).
  • And ultimately, that failure and success are always both real possibilities and there is an ethical obligation for all to work toward success even if you aren't ultimately as successful as all wanted to be.
But for now, we press forward also knowing that you can get to the end even in a dysfunctional system--it just isn't fun (for everyone) despite the fact that it happens more often than not. Hence, the loathing of group projects and three-quarters of the books in the business management section at the local bookstore.

All of which is to say pity me forgive me if the music and more thoughtful (or at least semi-thoughtful) posting is thin and infrequent for the next month or so. I hope to be getting to a bunch of music and other stuff, but if not, please understand that you would really rather not know what I am thinking, because it might involve you being listed as an accessory in some official proceeding.

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