The global competitive environment is witnessing a new shift where more and more companies are organizing their activities and tasks around groups. Being able to work effectively in a group is now considered a crucial requirement for any employee. This write up details my motivation behind joining a Masters course in management at the Bangor Business School and how this is helping me to polish my skills as an effective group member and a future manager. This piece of work also identifies various issues faced when working in groups and simple solutions that can be applied to counteract these pitfalls to maximize outputs.
MOTIVATION FOR JOINING A POSTGRADUATE PROGRAM IN MANAGEMENT
The undergraduate program in Commerce at Bishop Heaber College Trichy, India introduced me to a wide range of topics in my core subject such as economics, statistics and mathematics. The commerce curriculum not only inculcated a high degree of problem solving and analytical skills in the core field but also gave me a chance to briefly explore other practical business domains such as management, finance, marketing, accountancy and law. These topics are highly relevant in the current economic scenario and it is very interesting to investigate how the interplay of various forces drives global growth.
What fascinated me most was the fact that many of the theoretical topics in management have profound practical utility and when applied to various problems these ensure important process and product improvements. In order to fulfill my dream of becoming a hi-tech business consultant, I decided to join a postgraduate program in Management at a reputed university that would provide me with ample opportunities in terms of growth, personally as well as professionally. According to McClelland's Theory of Needs motivation depends on three needs - Achievement, power and affiliation (McClelland, 1961 & 1975). These 3 factors were instrumental in motivating me to join a postgraduate program and work towards achieving my goals.
THE BANGOR BUSINESS SCHOOL: A GLOBAL PLATFORM
The next challenge that I faced was to figure out a university that would meet my standards and requirements and would prove central to my success in future endeavors. After a thorough research, I zeroed down on the Bangor Business School at the Bangor University. According to Clayton Alderfer's ERG Theory, existence, relatedness and growth are the three main factors that motivate people for joining an organization. My decision of joining the Bangor University was based on these three factors as this university provides personal attention to students, offers opportunities that students can relate to and presents ample space to grow (Alderfer, 1969).
The Bangor business school provides a plethora of courses in management with a highly trained staff and collaborations worldwide with the industry providing excellent future prospects. The fact that this business school has been recently rated by the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) as the best in UK for accounting and finance further strengthened my decision of joining this university (Bangor, Homepage, 2010).
In recent past, the university staff was responsible for carrying out highly acclaimed consultancy tasks for government and non-government organizations with various publications in the leading journals. The Bangor business school provides abundant prospects for enhancing and developing competencies in management. Also, in order to become a successful consultant I require hands on experience and knowledge of global business, foreign markets and competition with a thorough understanding of global forces and business strategies. Bangor, through its collaboration with foreign companies and universities provides sufficient exposure in the global sphere, both practically as well as technically.
STUDENTS AT BANGOR BUSINESS SCHOOL
Another factor that attracted me towards the Bangor business school apart from the faculty and facilities was the students. As the college undertakes only a limited number of highly qualified students who are selected after stiff competition, quality of students is the essence of this university. The main advantages offered by this layout include:
Fewer number of students enrolled ensure that an excellent rapport is developed with all the members of the course. This helps in exchanging rich knowledge and expertise from various disciplines such as arts, commerce, law, science, business administration, marketing, etc. amongst different students.
The intimacy, good will and contacts built during the duration of the course prove to be very effective and important in the long run when different students join different industries at various profiles.
These students have varied perspectives and backgrounds and sharing this tremendously helps in improving any professional.
Thus, interacting with this crème de la crème was a big motivation for joining the Bangor University.
APPROACHES TOWARDS LEARNING
Determining an appropriate and conducive approach towards learning is indispensible to the process of gaining knowledge. According to Biggs & Telfer (1987), the main approaches undertaken by students comprise of two elements - Motive and Strategy. Based on this, he identified three main approaches adopted by students. These were the Surface Approach, the Deep Approach and the Achieving Approach.
Surface Approach: In the Surface Approach, positive and negative extrinsic motives play a vital role and student's strategy is to attempt the least to pass a subject. In the process he renders himself inefficient of understanding the meaning of what he has learned and the interplay of factors because the motive is superficial and he has no personal interest in what he is doing.
Deep Approach: In the Deep Approach, motive is an intrinsic curiosity to learn things and the strategy undertaken by the student is one of personal commitment towards learning. In the process he comprehends and understands things in the best possible manner, tries to co-relate things learned with past experiences and accomplishes the main task of studying.
Achieving Approach: In the Achieving Approach, the motive is to achieve a particular goal such as high grades and the strategy adopted by the student is to do at the most what is required to achieve his goal.
MY APPROACH TOWARDS LEARNING
During my entire student life I have always strived towards gaining a deep knowledge of each subject that I studied. In the competitive world that a professional faces once that he comes out of the college, a strong foundation is required if he wishes to thrive and grow. Hence, when I joined the Bangor University my main motivation was to build a strong and deep understanding of various subjects, variables and topics of management.
INFLUENCE OF THE BANGOR BUSINESS SCHOOL ON MY APPROACH TOWARDS LEARNING
In 2001, Biggs described two main influences that shape a student's approach towards learning - Personal factors and Teaching. These are described below:
Personal factors such as background, upbringing or personality may have a positive or negative effect on the student and may prompt him towards developing a Surface Approach or a Deep Approach.
Teaching: Conventional teaching methods such as routine examinations, time pressure, marking schemes, detention, etc. lead students towards developing a Surface Approach of learning. On the other hand, newer teaching methods such as case studies, activities, tutorials, problem solving, flexible grading systems, etc. encourage students towards developing a Deep Approach.
At Bangor, the faculty believes in an interactive teaching style where the student is free to ask questions and is encouraged to think out of the box. In fact the techniques employed have molded various students from being Surface approaches to Deep approaches. This process has been accelerated by promoting student-student interactions that result in an exchange of expertise and in turn motivating students to go for an in-depth analysis of various problems and issues.
In short, the unique and latest teaching methods employed at Bangor have helped management students in developing a strong understanding of various management related topics such as Problem Solving and Decision Making, Planning, Delegation, Internal Communications, Meeting Management, Leading, Coordinating and Controlling, Managing Self, Managing Stress, etc. (McNamara, 2010). These methods provide a unique environment where the students contribute towards the growth of each other thus keeping one and all motivated. Simultaneously, the university achieves the primary goal of education by enhancing the learning atmosphere of students and by increasing the efficiency of the faculty.
UNITY IN DIVERSITY
As discussed earlier, Bangor demonstrates a wide range of diversity by combining different people from different regions with different academic backgrounds as one big group. As a part of the MBA curriculum, many times students are required to be grouped according to activities, case studies or tasks assigned to the class. This brings the topic of working in groups. According to Robbins (2004, pp:219):
"A Group is defined as two or more individuals, interacting and interdependent, who have come together to achieve particular objectives".
Working in groups can be either pleasant or difficult or at times both. On the brighter side, combining people with heterogeneous backgrounds and experiences ensures best results in terms of value addition to the lot. Students demonstrate a high level of creative thinking, solutions design and problem solving ensuring better outputs. The dynamics achieved by this model guarantees a healthy atmosphere within the campus and students remaining positively competitive.
POSITIVE ASPECTS OF WORKING IN GROUPS
In Management courses, students are divided into groups to achieve various motives which in turn help them in gaining a competitive edge when they venture out in the industry. A person who works well in a group is in all possibility going to be an excellent team worker when he joins an organization. Various positive outcomes achieved by working in groups are described below:
When students work in groups they draw on each others knowledge and expertise to achieve better results. This is due to the fact that a multiple opinion is always better than a single opinion as it shows heterogeneity and avoids bias.
Group working achieves best results for evaluation reports such as case reports, reviews and critiques, research projects such as those that entail primary and secondary research and small projects that involve an argument such as a debate.
Students working in groups also make the best of the available strengths within the group. For e.g. in a written task, one of the members who has an excellent command on vocabulary can write the paper whereas other who has an expertise in the language can proofread.
Working in groups makes students responsible as they work coherently to achieve a common task and in the process keep motivating each other to perform better.
While working in groups there is a least possibility for members to procrastinate.
Group working ensures that individual styles always come to the forefront providing enhanced upshots.
PRESSING FACTORS ON GROUP WORKING
Group working is governed by various pressing factors such as efficiency of members, level of conflict, external conditions, processes, internal communication, etc. These factors give rise to various issues within the group (Goodman, 1987). Group work is rarely perfect and one is expected to encounter a wide range of issues and problems when working in groups. For any management student to be effective it is very important that he uses solutions design and innovative strategies for counteracting these issues. What remains indispensable is the fact that whatever one does, he should not hurt or offend other group members. Few issues associated with working in groups along with feasible solutions will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
WORKING IN GROUPS: ISSUES & SOLUTIONS
Disagreement and adopting a collaborative working style are the biggest issues when working in a group. Each individual in the group should understand that the basic idea of the curriculum behind instilling a collaborative working style is the fact that ideas will be challenged to achieve better results and a conflict is not always bad (Schellhardt, 1994). There are chances that other members of the group might come up with ideas that are correct or more relevant and can be supported by evidence. In order to remain competitive in such a scenario one should encourage disagreement to evaluate the strength of ones own ideas and to explore other possible options.
A collaborative working style should be promoted in the group to counteract disagreement. Collaborative style has various paradigms associated with it. These include telling not only what to do in the group but also activities required for accomplishing a particular task i.e. how to achieve desired results. Collaboration is most fruitful when a certain level of formality is introduced in the group behavior such as routine meetings and progress sheets and by keeping the group's interest before personal ones. Another measure to counteract disagreement is to be ready to compromise. This means that each member of the group should be ready to listen and accommodate each others opinion and sacrifice or modify his own theories in the light of knowledge and evidence. Encouraging disagreement, as discussed above, is very effective but what should be understood is the fact that groups that only disagree do not remain functional. Thus, it is very important to balance the 2 forces of disagreement.
As per Robbins (2004) a working group is not an unorganized crowd but should have a structure and most importantly a leader or a captain or a mediator. Thus, a mediator or chair person can be assigned for each meeting who will listen to all the parties and come up with final unbiased recommendations. All groups have specific norms that are established early to ensure smooth functioning (Hackman, 1992). Discussion rules such as no personal attacks can be decided early in the process. Group behavior encourages people to develop a critical approach towards questions which proves to be an advantage in real world setting where an individual is confronted with various pressing issues and problems.
II) DIVISION OF WORK
Division of work Division of work and responsibilities is indispensible to the success of working in groups. Tasks should be divided in such a way that all resources are adequately utilized without over burdening any specific individual. The actual task can be broken down into smaller sub-tasks and each sub-task can be assigned to one person. Care must be taken to ensure that sub-tasks should be divided according to individual strengths. For e.g. a person good at proofreading can be assigned for proofreading and one good at organizing should be assigned to organizing data and final output. Moreover, interpersonal skills are a determining factor for high performance and members should demonstrate and learn these from each other to improve their competencies (Stevens & Campion, 1994). Thus, to maximize the utilization of resources work should be delegated according to the strengths and expertise of group members.
III) SOCIAL LOAFING
Dealing with Slackers is another issue in group working. This phenomenon called as Social Loafing (Comer, 1995) refers to the tendency of people to work less when working in groups. Usually individuals on a single project are uniformly graded hence leaving a big room for one or more members to become laggards. To deal with this situation, rules should be laid down at the start itself. These can be simple punishments such as if a member does not attend a meeting without any specific reason he would buy a burger for everyone in the group to harsh ones such as not including the name of the person on the final report. Usually group members end up doing extra work because they do not take slackers to task and do not speak their mind. On the contrary, such opinions and issues should be flagged at the earliest in the group.
IV) RESPECT FOR INDIVIDUAL
Another main issue associated with working in groups is maintaining respect for individuals. The picture becomes difficult when one or more members in the group consider themselves superior and smarter than others. This is a dangerous attitude that may cause friction within the group. Also there is a chance where individuals may think that they would have learnt better if they had worked individually on the topic. Researches have demonstrated that group working is more efficient in making better quality and speedy decisions when compared to individual working (Cooke & Kernaghan, 1987). It is also important to encourage members to discuss their strengths and weaknesses at the first session itself so that they can be best utilized.
Sharing of thoughts generally results in cohesion within a group as people feel closer to each other. Group members should be encouraged to develop and enhance their ability to LISTEN. Group works best when all members are ready to listen to each other with an open mind. Moreover, in a campus environment where students come from different countries and cultures, something which is acceptable in one culture might not be the same in another (Axtell, 1991). Thus, respect for individuals, their cultures and values is essential to the success of any group.
Timely communication on all project and individual related matters is paramount to the success of any group. Unable to meet at decided time or place can lead to disturbances in the smooth running of a group. Regular communication should be maintained in the form of regular meetings to be held at a stipulated time agreed amongst the group members. Here, individuals can voice their findings on various topics as well as flag their personal problems if any. Other alternatives such as emails, telephones, chat rooms, messengers, etc. may be used if in case one-to-one discussions cannot be planned at all. One of the members can be assigned to record minutes of the meeting and can circulate the meeting notes to everyone. This formalizes the process of communication and makes sure that everyone in the group is on the same platform. Also it is easier for the members to look back on the notes and see if they are on the target and have achieved what was decided as per schedule.
VI) TIME MANAGEMENT
Inefficient time management also causes a lot of problems if things are not achieved as decided. Thus to avoid time lags the best approach is to have pre-agreed milestones for the project that can be converted into Gantt charts. It is a misconception that working in a group takes lesser time. In fact, working in a group can be very time consuming due to brain storming, developing agreement on a topic, collating information, revisions and proofreading, etc. Thus, group work should never be considered as less work in lesser time. It is also important to utilize meeting time efficiently to avoid lag later on. To achieve this, the agenda of the next meeting can be decided in the current one itself; all members should come prepared for the meeting; mediator can send a reminder through email or phone before for the upcoming meeting; mediator or chair person should be strict about the timelines.
CONCLUSION: MBA & BEYOND
To summarize, pursuing a Masters degree in Management for me is not just a tool to achieve status, affluence and riches but a ladder to understand and explore various domains of management. The main motivation behind chasing this program is to play with various management practices in order to understand the interplay of factors and to learn ways of applying latest theories of management to practice. This will help me in becoming an excellent manager by channelizing my skills to design efficient and innovative business solutions.
Continuous pursuit for wisdom has made me admire the knowledge that I already had and has further motivated me to hone my skills. The Bangor Business School has provided me an excellent opportunity to fulfill my dream by joining this course and gaining sufficient in terms of technical skills, interpersonal skills and contacts. This business school has not only equipped me with a deep knowledge of the course material but is shaping me to be an effective learner and listener. Various management approaches and principles that I am learning in this course such as working in groups will equip me better to adapt easily when I join the real world of business. My love for management practices will make me take up challenges whole heartedly.
APPLICATIONS OF THE CURRENT TOPIC
This body of work can be used by students to understand the importance and dynamics of working in groups. Moreover, simple solutions proposed can be easily adopted and implemented by one and all to maximize outputs when working in groups.