I’m attending a course on leadership and team-building on Tuesday. Before then I want to reflect on my own fledgling team of part-time distance learning e-tutors, and where we are now in terms of our effectiveness as a team.
The blurb I’ve been given on the ‘characteristics of effective teams’ lists them as having:
- Clear objectives
- Good decision-making processes
- Trust, co-operation and constructive dissent
- Clear roles, responsibilities and leadership
- Sound relationships with other groups
- Analysis of the team’s performance
There are three questions I’m going to reflect on:
- Which of these characteristics are present in my team of e-tutors?
- If some of these characteristics are not in place, what are the consequences for our performance?
- What can I do to introduce or strengthen the characteristics?
Well, objectives certainly exist. The tutors’ area in Moodle states that our No. 1 objective is to ‘facilitate the sharing of students’ knowledge and professonal experience in ways that genuinely deepen their learning’ – which sounds pretty clear, and there are also short video clips and text pages that clarify the activities that need to take place in order to fulfil these objectives. However, looking at the area logs, only two out of the fourteen tutors have actually accessed the tutors’ area (oops). The objectives and related tasks emerged from a needs analysis completed individually by the seven original tutors. In their current form they’ve been approved by the e-tutors through e-mail discussions and Skype chats. The full team of 14 includes three Canadian tutors and at least four new e-tutors, and most of the team members are almost totally isolated from each other. To conclude – I’m not sure if our objectives are clear to everyone. I need to make a priority of establishing preferred methods of contact with all the team members and contacting them all on a regular basis until they have all found their way onto Moodle, begun to use the tutor forums and established contact with each other. Until this happens, it will be very difficult for us to establish a consensus on our objectives.
Taking a glace down the list, the problem I’ve highlighted above also appears to be the rate-determining step for the further development of the other team characteristics. If most of the tutors are out of regular contact with each other, the speed and effectiveness of our decision-making is going to be seriously limited. Our number one priority has to be getting the tutors in the same virtual space, not necessarily at the same time, but with the tools available to communicate and collaborate asynchoronously. At the moment I am making the vast majority of the decisions simply based on the initial analysis of the tutors’ and students’ needs. For our team maturity to improve, so does our level of formal and informal communication.
At least I feel that we’ve been successful in establishing an environment conducive to constructive dissent. This is where I feel the online environment has massive advantages over face-to-face, synchronous communication. If a tutor posts some frustrations they’re experiencing to the tutors’ forum, I can pause to consider their situation, understand their point of view, think up possible solutions to any problems, and take my time to frame a positive, constructive response. If they’d raised those issues in a f2f meeting it would have been difficult to provide useful guidance on the spot and my response may have leaned towards the defensive rather than the progressive – not very helpful in establishing a trusting and co-operative environment.
The establishment of clear roles, responsibilities and leadership is an intended outcome of improving communication within our team. Once we have these issues established within the team, we will hopefully be able to start building relationships with other teams. Due to the nature of our team, a major element of this will have to take place online in order for the entire team to benefit from the relationship. In the first instance this could be with other similar teams within Bath and BCIT, or in other institutions that our team members have connections with. Input from and comparisons with these other groups might also contribute towards future analysis of our teams performance. I’m excited