This paper will focus on team culture as an aspect of cooperative learning. Team culture is a concept derived from the social definition of culture as a way of doing things. In this particular case, this paper shall refer to how an individual acculturates to the obligations and responsibilities that accrue with being a member of this particular group. The importance and significance of team culture cannot be overemphasized. Teamwork spirit is the glue that holds a complex team comprised of a myriad of differences in beliefs, inclinations, priorities, and other stress factors. Moreover, teamwork differentiates a team from a group that is merely working together for convenience and is a necessary virtue in affecting the integrated results desired when working on a common mission or goal (Sosik & Jung 2008, p. 21). Workflows act as the bane of any team’s existence and as such, it requires a strong team culture to ensure effectiveness. Team success is dependent on the team leader’s conciliatory skills as these skills are necessary for addressing any arising problems and providing a systematic solution. Out of this process, a workflow develops and stands as a witness of what the team has successfully weathered. In a way, the conciliatory skills form the infrastructure of the team (Church 2005, p. 16). Workflows function better when customized to the specific team’s needs, but at times, the team can adapt the workflows from other teams and attain compatibility thereafter. Once developed, team culture runs in perpetuity so that it can easily outlive the team leader and the stronger the culture, the better its longevity and the easier the successive transition.
The group in question comprised of four individuals, viz. Mohammed, Turki (the Arabs), Marcus (Chinese), and Chunk (Vietnamese). Evidently, the group would have issues from the onset most of which are cultural due to the diverse international backgrounds represented by all these nationalities. However, the entire group hailed from the East, hence their collectivist personalities according to Hofstede’s model of cultural classification was a bonus at least as far as the various theories of social loafing and the element of team culture were concerned (Hofstede 1980, p. 345).
Initially, the group had several fundamental challenges with language taking the helm of those issues. English was a second language to all the members and some group members especially Mohammed had limited communication. The assignment was entirely in English and the first problem arose during the first group meeting when even interpreting the question conclusively ended up in a conflict over what exactly was required of the group members. However, after requesting a colleague who was eloquent in the language to clarify the instructions, the group reached a census over the meaning of the assignment. It was apparent from the onset that the group was small and at first this raised concern about the availability of a variety of skills necessary to complete the assignment successfully. However, during the first meeting when the issue came up, the members decided that this move was a bonus to the team because fewer people means fewer disagreements and thus reduced conflicts, which then allows quick decision making.
The second issue arose shortly afterwards and it was on the frequency as well as the location of the meetings. Mohammed lived quite a long way off campus and was initially reluctant to travel to campus thrice a week for the proposed group meetings. He and Turki also had an issue with the Friday meeting because that was their day of worship, being Muslim in religion. It took more than three meetings to deliberate on when was convenient for all to meet and tackle the assignment. Even after the decision was made in a way that everybody compromised to some extent, the group would still meet and either the Asians or the Arabs would not show up. This scenario made it clear that there were clear subgroups that would give root to other conflicts within the group. However, it was interesting to note that the group members were always cooperative and willing to divulge new information as well as listen to what other group members had to say. The group also tried to discuss the finer details of the Ticketless Project as best as they could, given the language barrier amongst the members.
Changes that occurred and why
Research indicates that the Asian culture is collectivist in nature and as such, the interests of the group come before the interests of an individual. In a way, this aspect is parallel to utilitarianism but it may and does have negative impacts on cooperative learning. In a group such as this, the diversified nationalities all contributed to the group culture somewhat by bringing in old habits and other social norms that may be common to these nationalities yet unique in the setting of cooperative learning. However, this sort of diversity is a mark of distinction in itself so that it becomes the team culture of the group (Aggarwal & O’Brien 2008, p. 76). The same research opines that due to this tendency of placing the group’s needs above individual needs, group members who feel dispensable for whatever reason, be it their language proficiency or their inadequate social skills will often sit back and let the rest of the team do the work. In such a case, the reasoning is that the team shall likely get higher points if the ‘smart’ ones tackle the assignment. This kind of thinking is a major cause of social loafing. Conversely, one may wonder why it is that the rest of the group may seem to entertain this kind of indolence, and the answer lies in the concept of social compensation. This means that the team members shall double their effort to cover for the inadequacies of other group members just so that they do not miss the marks.
Pedagogical theories indicate that the best method of learning is through self-induced research, which connotes a lack of coercion or authoritarian regime. The same applies in cooperative learning and so everybody came in with well-researched summaries of the merits of cooperative learning and the way to go about it. The most significant factor raised by everyone was that, it is important to acquire cooperative skills because they equip one for the team-oriented workforce that all were planning to join soon, especially in the field of Information Technology.
Part of the justifications that students raise for social compensation is the issue of cultural stereotypes (Brickner, Harkins, & Ostrom 2006, p. 768). Mohammed and Turki confessed that prior to this meeting, they felt that they would double their efforts in order to make up for the Marcus and Chunk’s lack of diligence. It is important to clarify here that Marcus and Chunk are very smart individuals and that the issues that brought contention initially were Marcus’ shifting moods as sometimes he would be very optimistic yet sometimes he would be pessimistic and bring the group’s morale very low. On the other hand, Chunk is a great typist and this came in handy when it was necessary to submit typed reports. However, he was such an urgency junkie or rather he would procrastinate on completing projects to the last minute and sometimes fail to meet deadlines.
The group decided that to counter the disruptive effects of social loafing, which included poor performance and contention due to unfairness in assessment; it would apply a peer assessment mechanism whereby each member would be an active shareholder in the project. Moreover, the members agreed that each week there would be an evaluation of each by the rest of the members, which would be filed away and upon collection of the assignment it would be handed to the lecturer, who would then adjust the individual work accordingly (Church 2005, p. 16). Moreover, since each student had different skills and experiences, it was agreed that when creating and allocating these tasks, an individuals’ skill set would be the guiding principle. This move would in effect give each member a challenging but meaningful and relevant duty, which was necessary in ensuring compliance.
The members also agreed that they could reduce the face-to-face meetings to twice a week and supplement one day’s meeting with a virtual group meeting conducted electronically. This suggestion implied that the meeting would be conducted through video-conferencing, by email, or via chatting on the different social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter (Anderson & West 2004, p. 86). The use of virtual group meeting would reduce stress in commuting to the meeting venue as well as an element of distance, which increased anticipation for actual meetings. In a bid to make the actual meetings even more attractive, the group members decided that at the close of each meeting the group would engage in a social activity such as catching a movie or going out for a football game so that they can socialise better and improve the relationships among themselves.
Several weeks into this new routine the members had become close friends and thus they decided that instead of commuting to school for meetings, they could hold them at their apartments so that they can get to know each other better. Consequently, these meetings became rotational and thus they moved from house to house each week and friendships became stronger and stronger after every meeting. The overall effect of this increased interaction was a reduction of social loafing and an improvement in English proficiency because English was the colloquial language used in any such meeting (Baker & Clark 2010, p. 264). It soon became apparent to the team that the Asians were even more proficient with technology due to their previous intensive education in science subjects.
Therefore, the Asians, Chunk and Marcus, were charged with the technical obligations that required exceptional expertise. Chunk was especially helpful with the manoeuvring of new technology and typing assignments and these skills were especially useful in the project, whose aim was to develop a ticketless way for paying for trains, and trams. As such, their expertise complemented that of Mohammed and Turki. Mohammed was an exceptional organiser with remarkable planning and organisation skills that came in handy in organising the group in terms of meetings, venues, and agendas. Turki had a knack for the arts and he is the one responsible for the immaculate design of the logo that sets this group’s work apart from the rest. All the members were always bursting with new ideas and solutions to problems and the channels of communication were rarely clogged due to disputes.
Whereas the new developments within the group were all positive, it soon became apparent that the group had become too much of a social affair and less of an educational instrument, which was the original idea. This aspect stood out conspicuously when the members ceased to assess each other and began to ignore signs of social loafing. The group only noticed this fallback when the supervising lecturer pointed out the same during one of the assessment sessions. The group members decided unanimously that a new structure would be an appropriate place to start since prior to the fallback, there was no recognised group leader or secretary and so there was a lack of a clearly-defined leadership and thus this lack of direction led to drifting (Chen, Donahue, & Klimoski 2004, p. 28).
The group elected Chunk as the group leader because he seemed to fit the role adequately and was the senior most individual of all the other group members. Next, the rotational meetings were disbanded and the school again became the meeting venue so that all would be disciplined enough to commute for meetings and when they did, they would do it knowing they were headed for academic purposes rather than social calls (Hackman 2007, p. 331). Finally, the weekly group assessment became an active part of the group.
Each member of the group understood that the group’s interests came first according to utilitarian principles and so it was critical to agree on when the project would be completed. Since the appointed time was three months away, the group decided to complete the project three weeks to the deadline to give itself time to re-evaluate the workability of the results and fix any loose ends. In spite of the oneness of the group, the group members had different dispositions, interests, and perspectives. Consequently, if a member noticed a fault in one of the instruments of the group, s/he would raise such an issue during the end of a group meeting and discussed thereafter. Thanks to the Business majors, the group learnt how to set SMART goals, viz. “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound goals” (Hillsdon 2002, p. 504).
Research has proved that incentives always, albeit marginally, improve performance. In addition to ensuring that the tasks allocated to each individual were meaningful and challenging, the group sought three other groups and contracted agreed to engage in an inter-group competition every end of the month and upon completion of the project. This suggestion was Marcus’ idea and he made the rest of the group understand that having participated in the overly competitive post-Mao educational system, competition was a vital source of motivation for him and everyone else (Kaufman, Felder, & Fuller 1999, p. 310). Therefore, the group unanimously appointed him to the role of ‘innovator’, which meant that he had reason to be competitive even within the group itself to emerge with the most extraordinary ideas as far as the project was concerned, as well as in the setting of the inter-group competition quiz as each group was to contribute to the questions administered. Nevertheless, it is also important to note that Marcus’ title did not mean that nobody else was permitted to be innovative.
For the rest of the group and as an incentive to the other groups, it was agreed that whichever group won at the end of every week would receive $500 and the winning group would receive $2000 at the end of the project, which was to be contributed by the losing teams. The involved groups agreed to the set terms and thus competition was intense. In a bid to encourage healthy competition within the group itself, the member who presented the best paper on any given task got extra two points on his assessment that week and this would reflect in the final results after the lecturer did his adjustments. Other than this, there would be a free movie paid for by the rest of the group members.
The school library was adequately stocked to cater for the bulk of the project, but since it was on very new information technology skills, the members also benefitted from various websites available in the school databases, e-books, and whitepapers from numerous online journals. Moreover, the Asians were undoubtedly an added advantage due to their prowess with sciences. In fact, their expertise soon impressed other groups and they would come in and ask questions on issues that bothered them in various levels as they handled their projects.
Characteristics of an effective group
Being a temporary team, this team was remarkably effective due to the diversity of its membership. As aforementioned, it comprised of a Chinese, a Vietnamese, and two Arabs. These individuals were bound to bring in just sufficient differences to form the recipe of a major conflict if not well handled, but they were also ideal in their size (Taggar & Brown 2001, p. 698). Smaller groups are generally easier to handle especially if the task is temporal. Secondly, the group put in place an assessment procedure and this would ensure accountability and participation of each member, which would in turn ensure successful execution of the project at hand. Thirdly, the group put in place a comprehensive leadership structure with an appointed group leader and an innovator. These roles are responsible for the successful balance of internal group dynamics, which eventually have an effect on the group’s effectiveness (Stoel 2002, p. 58). Fourth, the group had a constructive reward system that acted as motivation for its members to put in more effort in the work, and finally the group set goals and went ahead to achieve them accordingly.
As posited at the onset of this paper, once a group develops team culture, the group can easily run in perpetuity so that it outlives the team leader, and the stronger the culture, the better its longevity and the easier the successive transition. This assertion explains why despite the lapse into a social rather than an academic role, the team managed to recover and realign itself to the original function for which it had been intended. The team had a need for a motivator, innovator, and networker role among the group members and as a result, the team set an example for others in the same institution (Proehl 2007, p. 139). The motivator’s obligation was to create a lasting team spirit and motivate others consequently reinforcing the members’ loyalty and commitment to the achievement of the team’s goals. Innovation underlines new ideas, opportunities, challenges, and solutions.
The third role of networking has an extrinsic quality to it. It requires a connection and even interaction with the team’s environment to establish resourceful contacts and identify other resources that may prove to be helpful in the team’s future (Latane, Kipling, & Harkins 1979, p. 827). The group members adequately filled all these positions such that ultimately each member had a specific duty to perform. In essence, these roles were all intertwined and thus they may prove unnecessary and ineffective if treated as mutually exclusive. Ideally, the entire team ought to be in a position to act as a homogenous individual and pull off all the expected obligations of each role although they could delegate the various responsibilities to individual members for execution (Pawar & Sharifi 2007, p. 285).
At the onset of the project, it seemed impossible, difficult, and unachievable to complete the project successfully. However, as the members mingled and knew each other better and appreciated each other’s unique skills and personalities, the challenges started becoming surmountable. Whereas initially the Asians seemed inadequately equipped and unfavourable for the group, they proved to be priceless in the completion of the allocated task. They were exceptionally intelligent in academic proficiency and the language barrier only masked interesting and useful personalities. Soon, the entire group was in a better position to communicate and all members realised that they could be friends despite hailing from diverse places and having different religions and cultures. Friendships were established and stereotypes discarded, but the most fulfilling achievement was in completing the project three and half weeks earlier coupled with winning the intergroup competitions twice.
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