Cooperation and Cohesion = Synergy

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What? As I reflect on our reading of Group Dynamics and Team Interventions I cannot help but think about many of the lessons learned in the context of successful sports teams. The famous athlete Kareem Abdul-Jabbarr once said “one man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team.” In my opinion, all of the interventions, approaches, and strategies we have learned, to help us better manage teams, are all for naught if we do not have individuals on the team who are cooperative and committed to accomplishing a goal.

So What? With reference to the previous quote, the most talented or most well-funded sports teams don’t always win. In sports, everybody loves the underdog who comes back for the win or the “cinderella story” as we aptly describe them. Typically, when these underdogs win, the first thing we hear from players is how close and tightly bonded the team was and how that contributed to their success. Thus, tight bonds, in this instance can help a team overcome the lack of resources and contribute to team success or synergy. These tight bonds characterize a cohesive team that developed synergy and as a result was high performing and successful.

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Now what? Sports teams provide a useful context to study many of the concepts we have learned in this class. I realize cohesion and collaboration were not included in this unit of study, but I believe in order for any team to rise to the occasion and develop synergy the individuals that comprise the team need to be cooperative, which in turn can contribute to cohesion, which can overcome a lack of resources and lead to synergy. In my opinion, the path to synergy is heavily influenced by cooperative partners and cohesive teams. Thus, the importance of providing an environment where teams can bond and develop cooperative partnerships before beginning their work can contribute to team performance and success. Creating this type of environment can be accomplished through the use of interventions like ropes courses, conflict management procedures, adopting a team design mentality, and mediation, which are advanced by Franz (2012) to improve cooperative behavior. Going forward, I have developed a better understanding of why building cooperative team can contribute to the process of synergy and will apply this knowledge in my team work. For example, a team I worked on in Extension completed a ropes course together before beginning our work. I must admit, at the time, I thought it had no value, but now I understand the premise behind the ropes course as it was trying to develop our team into a cooperative and cohesive unit. Looking back, I must say that this team was one of the most successful teams I have ever worked on. Therefore, the next team with which I work, I plan to suggest a team bonding activity before our work begins as well as adopting the team design mentality advanced in the literature. I believe these are the first steps in developing cooperative partners and cohesive teams, which can lead to synergy.

The Bridge to Immigration Reform

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What? We have all probably heard about the immigration debate that has been going on in the United States. This year congress took up the issue of immigration and the Democratic controlled Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but when the bill arrived in the Republican controlled house negotiations between Democrats and Republican began to break down. Each side had dug in their heels, and felt that their individual approaches would be most successful at solving the immigration problem.

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So what? It is clear that both parties understand that immigration is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed (problem a), but agreeing on the approach to solving the issue (problem b) has become the sticking point that has caused negotiations to break down. It could be said that Republicans wanted to be more adaptive in their approach to cutting a deal. For example, Republicans are in favor of more incremental change that could be characterized as an adaptive approach that includes small changes within the current framework of the law. Many news outlets, and Republicans, describe this approach as the piecemeal approach. On the other hand, Democrats prefer a more innovative approach on immigration reform. For example, their approach is characterized by significant changes outside the current statutory framework. This approach to passing a bill is often referred to as comprehensive reform.

Obama Welcomes Specter to the Democratic Party

Now what? A lot of my classmates talked about the importance of bridging and bridgers this week in the forum. This is an example of how adaptive and innovative approaches can lead to a stalemate if there isn’t someone (a leader) who is willing to bridge the differences. A perfect example, which is also related to politics, is the fiscal cliff debate that took place last year. In this case, Republican preferred a more innovative approach with significant changes that included sweeping entitlement and tax code reform and Democrats wanted to take a more adaptive approach that included revenue increases and spending cuts. When negotiations finally broke down, in stepped Vice President Biden AKA the Bridger! The VP was able to bridge the differences in approaches and save the country from going off the fiscal cliff. This example reiterates the importance of having bridgers that can bring individuals in a group together to solve problems. Additionally, it highlights the importance of power and relationships. The positional power of the VP coupled with the personal relationships he had with members on both sides of the aisle were able to help him bring about change. A Bridger can give credibility and can provide valuable contributions to bringing the adaptive and innovative styles together in order to solve problems.

The dark side of group cohesion and social capital.

What?  As evidenced by our readings, social capital and team cohesion can lead to greater collaboration which, in turn, can improve team performance (Franz, 2012; Zornoza, Orengo, & Peñarroja, 2009).  It is clear that team cohesion and social capital develops over time and through interaction.  Although our authors focus on the positive aspects of cohesion and social capital; I would argue that team cohesion and the collective social capital can also lead to negative consequences.  For example, Franz (2012) mentions groupthink as a negative consequence or faulty process associated with team cohesion.

So what?  A president’s cabinet certainly interacts frequently which provides the foundation for cohesion and social capital development.  However, I would argue that when a cabinet or any team for that matter develops into highly cohesive teams there is potential groupthink, which can lead to poor decision-making.  In my opinion, one example of group think was our march to war in Iraq.  Individuals in the Bush cabinet were an extremely cohesive team, so much so that they became more preoccupied with destroying others who questioned their rationale for war rather than listening to differing viewpoints, and as a result our nation entered into a war under false pretenses.

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Another example would be the financial crisis of 2009.  Teams of top bank executives were so strongly bonded (social capital) around profits that it led to very poor decisions and the collapse of the financial industry. What is more, Franz (2012) writes “If cohesive groups make a poor decision, they are likely to stick with it longer” (p. 197).

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Now what?  By avoiding groupthink teams can avoid having to stick with these poor decisions.     Groupthink is obviously prevalent in our society and this phenomenon was further explicated by our previous reading by Funk & Kulik (2011) and their explanation of the characteristics and negative consequences associated with late stage teams.  Some would argue that my examples are flawed and good decisions were made in these situations.  However, I think these examples provide valuable information in that team leaders and members need to be reflexive when making decisions especially in groups with high cohesion and social capital.   One way to be reflexive is to seek out several sources of information (including outside of the team) and encourage varying opinions. Although cohesion and social capital can provide many benefits and improve team performance, equal consideration should be given to the negative aspects or the “dark side” of these constructs.  Becoming reflexive can help raising our awareness of groupthink and hopefully lead us to better decision-making processes.

Pope Francis as a Servant Leader

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What? Earlier this year, the College of Cardinals emerged from the papal conclave having elected an individual from Brazil as the next Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. As a catholic, I have had mix feelings about the church because of their violation of trust and abuse of authority regarding the sexual abuse scandal, but since the election of Pope Francis I have found myself being hopeful and optimistic about the future direction of the church.

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So What? The respect that Pope Francis has so quickly earned has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with his ‘down-to-earth’ authenticity and deep compassion for the welfare of others – regardless of their gender, religion, sexual orientation – above his own. The Pope is an example of a servant leader because he has made an effort to return the church to the followers, reached out to gather input from parishioners, and elevated people who believe in serving followers rather than their own self interests.

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Now What? In my experience, I have always responded favorably to servant leaders. I respect people who are willing “to get their hand dirty” and do the work of the people. This is probably why I am passionate about Extension work; I enjoy being in the trenches doing the work of the people with the people. In my Extension career, I tried to emulate servant leadership by bringing groups together to serve the greater good. I believe that it is not enough to assert someone is a servant leader without providing evidence, so I will provide several examples of how Pope Francis has exhibited servant leader behaviors. In a display of ethical behavior, the Pope has made an effort to return the church and its governing body at the Vatican back to its modest roots. For example, he chose to live in modest quarters rather than the papal palace occupied by his predecessors and recently ex-communicated priests who have lived extravagant lifestyles. In an effort to return the church to the followers the Pope has called on Bishops and Priests “to serve, not dominate” the people of the church. In an effort to create value for the Catholic community, the Pope has recently initiated a worldwide survey on modern life that asks parishioners what they think about church teachings in some areas that have become controversial, including birth control, divorce, and same-sex marriage. This data will be used at the 2014 meeting of the College of Cardinals which will hopefully help the Pope conceptualize the vision for the future of the Catholic Church. For these reasons, I believe that Pope Francis exhibits the qualities of a servant leader.

In our rapidly changing world……

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What? Since returning to graduate school I have heard and read individuals who consistently communicate that we are experiencing a “rapidly changing world” and, thus, we are not preparing students for this new world. Some have even said that previously tested leadership models or theories do not take into account the volatile environment in which all segments of our society now operates. Let me first start by saying, I think the world has always changed at a rapid pace. Having recently read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn (1962) I feel more confident in saying this and sounding somewhat intelligent. Change is inevitable, but I tend to think that the problems we wish to solve are becoming more complex.

So what? So you are probably saying what in the heck did that rant have to do with leadership? I used the above statement regarding the complexity of problems as the segue way to talk about the parallels (that I see) between problem solving and the study and practice of leadership. As evidenced, by our course readings, the focus of leadership studies has evolved to focus more on followers and the distributed nature of leadership. I think the strength based approach speaks to this shift in leadership in the sense that the complex problems of our day will require the collective efficacy of teams rather than the individual’s efficacy of a “great men” or “great women.” The shared leadership, co-leadership, team leadership, and distributed leadership speak to the importance of the cognitive diversity that is needed to solve 21st century problems.

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Now what? I think I had a (mini) epiphany this week when I was able to see the relationship between the strengths based approach, the collective leadership models we studied, and my core belief that all leadership is situational. My ability to weave these approaches, models, and my core beliefs together speaks to my interest in social networks and the value that each node (individual) brings to the table. This unit has made me realize that leadership functions can be spread across multiple individuals or teams and leadership does not always fit neatly into a hierarchical structure. This weaving of approaches has informed my leadership philosophy in that I realize we all have strengths and different perspectives that we bring to the table and these differences make the group collectively stronger and better able to lead and solve problems.

Leader Wanted: Must have these traits…..

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What?  In May, Virginia Tech President Charles Steger announced he would step down as the University President after 14 years at the helm.  During his tenure he has been heralded with growing the research portfolio of VT, raising funds in excess of $1.4 billion, expanding the outreach of the University, and supporting the arts. His list of accomplishments is long and impressive.  Recently, the search committee that has been charged with finding his replacement hosted a listening session for interested parties.  As a participant in one of these sessions I heard the speakers describe President Steger’s leadership style as deliberate, inclusive, collaborative and bold.

So What?  As I sat in the listening session I heard all of the traits and qualities that the next president should possess.  These included strategic, communicator, visionary, fundraiser, political skill, etc.  As a student of leadership I was a bit taken back by the fact that nobody mentioned collaboration, inspiration, or team player.  My view of leadership as a collaborative process informs my interest in the fact that collaboration was not mentioned during the listening session.  I believe leadership is about bringing people together.  It is a collective effort.

Now what? Although Dr. Steger has a long list of accomplishments, I am not naïve enough to believe that he has accomplished all of these things alone.  He obviously had skills in bringing people together to accomplish common goals.  I think during search processes like the one mentioned above we focus too much on “trait spotting” to borrow a term from Jackson and Parry.  An individual can posses all of the traits that make a great university president, but if they cannot relate to people, collaborate and inspire them to do what is right all of those traits are for not.  We have moved passed the trait approach to leadership in our field and think it is my role as a (future) leadership educator to enter the search committee discourse by offering an alternative paradigm from which to view leadership.  This alternative approach views leadership as a collective process that values the social dimension of leadership.