Successful Group Dynamics

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Melody Rose SteinFollowOct 9, 2014

Groups can be an effective way of accomplishing larger goals with greater efficiency than possible when working alone. However, most of the assigned classwork groups I’ve been a part of have only decreased productivity and simplified individual creativity rather than improve upon it. While these collaborations tended to yield a few innovations, overall the dynamics of the group tended to break down into “doers” and “watchers” with contributions tipping to only one or two people on the team.

However, this summer I was part of a lab group at Shoals Marine Lab that worked efficiently and democratically. This success depended on the number of players involved, the fact that we each chose to work together, and clear but flexible division of labor. Compared to less successful, past team projects there were relatively few players — Rather than several layers of leadership and participants, there was only a core team of four people. Because of this small size, each member was able to work independently and hold some authority over a piece of the project. The burden was never placed entirely on any one person, and instead was divided into individually governed tasks. Another key element of the group’s overall success was the fact that it was not randomly composed — rather, each player had elected to join the group with the knowledge of the specific project and the other members of the team. This aspect was key in avoiding some of the personality/communication style conflicts I experienced in past, assigned group contexts.

My current leadership challenge centers around acting as the director of a product design collective on campus. Through duplicating the aspects that worked well in my lab group, I hope to create an efficient collaborative environment that allows everyone involved in the project to work together cohesively and develop their own ideas through the lens of a team-based system. Rather than recruit as many people as would sign up, I created an application process that allowed both self-selection and a way to more objectively build a strong initial team of interested and committed participants. Over the coming weeks, I intend to break my team into smaller pair groups who will then manage individual projects. These smaller groups will allow the individual participants the greatest freedom to build upon their own ideas fully and maximize the efficiency of decision making, while also maintaining a close and collaborative relationship to the entire team.

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