Wednesday, 24 December 2008

virtual leadership - lessons from the module

Reflecting on the assignments from this first run of the Module (ok I promise this will be the last mention of assignments), I have been caused in turn to reflecton my own leadership of this virtual team of learners.

One observation is that this of course isn't a team at all but a group as although each student aims to complete and pass their individual assignment, they do not have a common aim or common task to complete as a team.

As the "leader" I supplied the task ( the assignment) and resources to complete it in the form of learning materials, but some individual interpretation of that task was permitted.

Participation in any group activities was therefore entirely voluntary: there were neither rewards offered nor sanctions imposed for not participating.

The only performance management activity undertaken by me was to monitor who was participating in the Discussion Boards and wiki, but the criteria for assessing participation - or team efectiveness - were not transparent.

Individuals were not directly superivised unless they requested a coaching or tutorial session, though I did write to those who appeared not to be participating to check they were able to access everything OK.

I guess that on the one hand my leadership style could be described as laissez faire - I allowed them to work in whatever way they appeared to choose (but without enquiring as to what actually did suit them best...). On the other hand, I tell myself, I am simply treating them as adults who are responsible for their own learning.....

The results then are interesting:

Over half of the group achieved a very good or excellent mark for their assignment. The majority of these were also actively participatory in Discussion Board, Wiki, chat room and tutorials. One could conclude that participation, self-awareness, organisational skills and high achievement orientation went together.

Curiously though, about 1/3 of this "very good - excellent group" had had no contact with me or with one another. They displayed all the same levels of self awareness, application, and achievement orientation without ever having functioned as part of a learning "team". Clearly these were highly self motivated and required little direction to keep them on track - perhaps these are the ideal Virtual Team members?

Of the half of the group in the satisfactory or good range of results, most made little attempt to participate in group work beyond introducing themselves initially: variously they were afflicted by technical difficulties and onerous work demands. Some however missed out important sections of the brief - but by not asking for at least a personal tutorial, they did nothing to help themselves, which was a missed opportunity.

And then there were a couple who appeared not to have particpated at all in the module; did not refer to any of the learning materials or recommended reading resources and did not offer any reflection, but nonetheless submitted a half decent offering albeit working entirely to their own brief.

I can now reflect on this and think of ways in which I could improve the learning experience (and my leadership role) - say by offering marks for Discussion Board participation and wiki contribution to enhance motivation and clarifying the criteria by which performance will be assessed.

However, the really fascinating thing for me is that these results have a lot of parallels in work "teams" - especially where a "hands off " leadership style is being employed and the purpose or overall aim is neither fully articulated or regularly measured.

For a start there is the social crew (they are never alone!) who organise birthday lunches, send one another funny emails and turn up to every team meeting, but nonethless work really hard to further the group's overall aim, which is something they believe in fervently.

Those lone stars who rarely interact but whose work output is high and whose contribution is original, creative, and occasionally pays great dividends for the wider organisation.

The worker bees who attend for the contracted hours and ususally come up with the goods but give team meetings a wide berth, suspecting them to be "soft and fluffy claptrap". Most likely to be flustered by technology or overwhelmed by the amount of paper on their desks (or under it, behind it, etc)

The most worrying of course is the maverick who ignores any direction from the centre, shares nothing with colleagues (information is power afterall!) works only to further their (largely personal) ends, and keeps just enough this side of the "law" to avoid sanctions.... a very difficult one for any leader to manage.

If you recognise anyone here, please believe me, this blog is not based on any actual person, either living or dead.....

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