Arctic Survival – From Success to Failure
Contrary to the outcome exhibited by most other groups during the Arctic Survival exercise, our team score (34) was lower than my individual score (64). This is not to suggest that group collaboration is detrimental; in fact, our outcome was unique among the class and of great surprise to the professor and entire class section. To be sure, pooling resources, elaboration of material, and support and motivation, while perhaps more time consuming, typically offer improved results. In theory, this model implies that a team’s collective knowledge can maximize utility and ensure the best outcome given the available information and perspectives. In our case, our group dynamics were such that we did not effectively utilize the resources we had, and consequently pooled a very limited amount of information. Rather than minimizing our risk, we increased it. I attribute much of our group’s failure at this simulation to process loss, which is defined as the problems that arise from lack of effective coordination among group members. A number of factors at play could explain the process loss which led to our counterintuitive results. First and foremost, one must consider the way in which group dynamics impact the overall productivity of group collaboration. Our team consisted of K, R, W, J and myself. K and W were quite opinionated, and in contrast, both R and J were quiet – I did not have a sense of what their true opinions were. K dominated the group by putting forth an idea and adhering to that idea in spite of other opinions. Both K and W were vocal in reiterating what they thought were the most important elements of survival. In our case, we took no measures to counteract the impact of clashing personalities. Subsequently, a lack of civil discussion led to uncoordinated efforts with regards to how we should begin to approach a systematic analysis of the situation. An effective manager, however, should be skilled at identifying employee team dynamics and personalities; in order to maximize potential, the manager must have the emotional intelligence (that is, the ability to perceive, decipher, use, and pinpoint emotions accurately) to understand how team members differ with respect to emotions, motivation, perspectives, experience, and intentions. For example, though J was quiet and rarely spoke up or defended her ratings, I knew of J’s work ethic from class and understood that it was not as though she avoided work or pulling her weight. In other words, I recognized that her behavior was not attributed to social loafing, but to some other phenomenon. In this case, our group members seemed to exhibit varying levels of psychological safety, which is the belief that little to no risk exists in a particular group environment, and consequently each member feels free to contribute their true thoughts. I presumed that J and R did not feel psychologically safe. Anytime a group member disagreed and pressed them to argue for their position, they wavered and complied, indicating that they felt uncomfortable in taking a risk and voicing dissenting views. Their low psychological safety led to an apparent mode of groupthink, in which R and J preferred unanimity in the group over their perceived accurate valuations of arctic survival tools. Similar to the Asch experiment in which a dissenter purposely responded with the wrong answer regarding which stick length was equal, R and J were often silent even though their scores later revealed that their ranking of the rope was more in line with the ideal. Indeed, both R and J, but particularly J, demonstrated a primary symptom of groupthink by censoring herself and failing to communicate her unique viewpoints. Managing a group of people requires careful consideration of the group dynamics in play, paying close attention to symptoms of groupthink and low psychological safety which might lead to process loss. A manager must use his or her emotional...
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