Monday, December 22, 2008

Orientation Week & Team Building - Part II

Yesterday I wrote about the initial orientation & team building activities, and I wanted to expand on that today by looking at some additional things we did to understand each other and ourselves.  

The next phase of the process was to see how people thought about challenges, and how they could solve those challenges in a team environment.  The tasks themselves were simple for individuals, but required coordination and communication to make it work efficiently for groups of 15-30 people.   As expected, lots of "leadership" styles emerged once the rules were announced.  Some people wanted to attack the task on the fly; some people wanted to start explaining their ideas, while others were there to quickly point out the flaws; still others stepped back and thought through their ideas in silence.  Factions quickly gathered around loud speakers, or like ideas.  Ultimately, we took action..and failed..and reassessed...and took action...and made progress (but failed)...and reassessed...and took additional actions. Throughout these activites, it was interesting to see who was focused on the results, and who was more interested in the process.  Both types of people are useful in any company, and their skills each fit certain types of roles, tasks and environments.  This separation would come into play later in the team-building and evaluation, and throughout the program.  

Following the large group activity, we moved back to smaller group activities.  This time, personal disclosure and team discussion of goals and motivations.  I'm not sure how the other teams approached this, but in retrospect, this was a huge moment in the 1st semester success of Team 5.  We all had the opportunity to share our backgrounds, our goals, our motivations and our likes & dislikes.  Out team has people from the Midwest, the West Coast, the South and India.  We come from backgrounds that literally ranged from near poverty to village royalty.   We come from stable families, broken families, families of change agents, and families that spent the family fortune.   We're motivated by work, by family, by new challenges and personal goals.  We have a sense of humor, and a thick skin.  We like to laugh, and we're not afraid to ask questions or be blunt.  

The most important part of that session, to me, was the frank discussion about how we'd build our team, what we wanted our team goals to be, and how we would resolve the differences we had between our goals and priorities.  It was not an easy conversation.  Some people have families and didn't plan to spend off-weekends in group sessions.  Some people saw this as their stepping stone to the C-Suite and were willing to do anything to make top grades in the program.  Some people saw "nobody as a stranger", while others were the first to say that they struggled to trust others.  Still others needed to break down stereotypes about men, women, blacks, whites and Indians.  To the credit of the team, and I consider this one of our strengths, we put all the issues on the table and discussed each of them rationally and completely.  We were able to resolve issues like off-week meetings, group expectation levels (ie. grades) and communications quickly.  Some of the other issues we agreed to compromises, or took a "lets-see-how-it-goes" attitude.  But more than anything else, we walked away from that discussion as a unified team.  We were transparent in our discussions and our actions.  We articulated our goals and stated our plans.  And we agreed that we would do everything we could to make sure that everyone in the team got through the entire program, as long as we each put forth the best effort possible.  

To many people, this probably sounds similar to activities that you've done in your business life, and it probably is.  But when you're paying your own "salary" (tuition), you have your own goals (Increased Salary; Promotion; New Learning, etc.) and then you have to mesh those with people that you've never met, it's a critical step to ensure your success in the program.  I applaud my team for coming through these activities stronger and more knowledgeable about themselves, and I applaud the WFU MBA administration for putting together an outstanding Orientation / Team-Building model.  It was a difficult week, making the transition back into academia, but the introduction was invaluable.  It's something that I plan to use with my teams in the future, and an investment of time and energy that will pay dividends for many years to come.