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Building a Strong Officer Team
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by Susan E. Becker, PhD - Mesa State College (CO)
Categories: Chapter Growth
xperienced chapter advisors know that you can have good years, and you can have challenging years working with Psi Chi officer teams. While the type of year a chapter has may be partly due to chance, we as advisors also have an opportunity to teach important leadership skills. Chapter advisors need a large tool kit of ideas to help officer teams develop leadership, learn about their own strengths, and experience the power of a well-functioning team. The opportunity to learn leadership and team building skills is important for undergraduates both in their education and in their future employment.
A well-functioning team is identified by a set of specific characteristics (adapted from Johnson & Johnson, 2009):
- A specific, well-defined purpose exists that is unique to the team.
- Shared leadership responsibilities exist among members and those responsibilities are clear.
- There is both team and individual work, and the team is developing products or producing outcomes.
- Effectiveness is measured directly by assessing team productivity.
- Both team and individual accountability are evident.
- Team celebrations occur.
- Individual efforts that contribute to the team's successes are also recognized and celebrated.
- Meetings have open-ended discussions that include active problem solving.
- In meetings, members discuss, decide, and perform real work together.
To develop a well-functioning officer team, you need to help members start the year positively and begin building skills right away. Ice-breaker activities are a fun way to help new officers get comfortable with each other and get to know each other's preferences and values. Meet Your Mates is an example of a quick, flexible, and effective ice-breaker activity. An effective ice-breaker will also begin to build trust among members of the team. Trust has two basic componentsóbeing trusting and trustworthy. Trust-building activities give the officers an opportunity to behave in trustworthy ways, and will increase their trusting behavior toward each other. These exercises can help officer teams gain confidence in each other, and open the way to more genuine discussions. Trust exercises can also build team self-efficacy, so that they feel empowered to accomplish tasks together. The Blind Trust Walk is a fun and effective trust-building activity that can be adapted for different environments and different capabilities of the members.
A functioning officer team will have shared goals for their chapter. To work toward shared goals, it is important for team members to clarify their own personal motivation for being a leader in their Psi Chi chapter. Discussing personal goals helps the officer team to work on avoiding conflicts of interest between individual and group goals. Being aware of how working on an officer team can help individuals meet their own goals results in reduced conflict and a higher-achieving team (Wolfe & Box, 1988). Once the officers are aware of each other's own agendas, they can then discuss team goals for their chapter.
As advisors, we have the role of helping the officer group develop a shared agenda for the year. One strategy for developing a functional team agenda is to introduce creativity into the process. The Team Islands Game is a nice example of an activity that encourages teamwork and creativity, and starts the officer team thinking about how they can develop the best ideas together.
Once a list of possible goals and activities is developed, it is important to help the officer team evaluate the functionality of their goals. Functional goals are specific, trackable and measureable, achievable but challenging, relevant to the social context of the chapter, and ideally will include transferable knowledge. The officer team is then responsible for deciding how to proceed. There are a number of group decision-making strategies: by authority, or by vote, are just two examples. For a small (3-8 members) officer team, decision making by consensus is a functional way to organize the team decision-making. In this way, the officer team maximizes incentives for sharing responsibility and outcomes. Decisions by vote, or by authority, tend to reduce the incentive of those who had opposing views to participate (Shepperd, 1993).
Training officer teams in consensus building and avoiding processes of groupthink (Driskell, Goodwin, Salaas & O'Shea, 2006; Janis & Mann, 1977) is important to maintain group trust and positive accomplishment. Conflict is useful because it can maximize the quality of the decision-making process, so members need to seek out differences of opinion. Developing effective consensus takes practice and the Spare Change exercise is a learning activity designed to help chapter advisors observe and facilitate that practice. Decision making by consensus is an interpersonal process where group members have to self-monitor their own communication behavior, as well as listen actively to what other members are communicating (adapted from Johnson & Johnson, 2009). There are a number of effective strategies for making decisions by consensus:
- Seek out differences of opinionóencourage all group members to express multiple opinions, to avoid groupthink.
- Present one's own position as clearly and logically as possible.
- Critically analyze the positions of others without getting personal.
- Encourage all group members to present the best case possible for what they want or believe.
- Encourage all members to change their minds when persuaded by a better idea.
- Avoid conflict-reducing procedures such as tossing a coin, bargaining, averaging, and majority vote.
- Encourage each member to keep the goal of reaching the best decision possible in mind.
An advisor's role also includes helping the officer team learn to maximize communication. Of course chapters should hold regular meetings, but officer teams should also meet regularly, outside of chapter meetings (we meet the week before). Advisors want to help the officer team pay attention to verbal and nonverbal communication: for example, pay attention to where officers sit at meetings and encourage them to be welcoming to new members not just verbally, but nonverbally as well. For project work, the officer team needs effective means of communication to involve all members in project tasks and to see that tasks are completed. Electronic communication can be very effective for this purpose, as long as the officer team sets a norm of everyone responding to everyone else, and checking in regularly as tasks are completed. Fallout Shelter is an excellent exercise to conduct either with the officer team or with the chapter membership, to emphasize the importance of good communication to resolve controversial decisions.
As a chapter officer team begins to develop good team habits, the advisor may encourage a push toward positive interdependence. This style of group functioning is most effective for ongoing teams where unpredictable challenges may occur, such as may happen with a group of college students. When a team is interdependent, leadership and participation are distributed among all team members and all members are involved in team decisions (Johnson, 2003). The team members then feel committed to implementing those group decisions.
To learn interdependence, officer teams will need some training on being able to perform a diversity of functions: for example, the chapter vice president should feel prepared to run a meeting if the president is not available, or to serve as secretary, should that officer not be there. Likewise, each member of the officer team should feel comfortable filling in at an event and communicating with the absent members what took place, and what decisions were made. In addition, a well-functioning team has members who pay attention to both task and maintenance functions (Humphrey, Morgeson, & Mannor, 2009). Task functions have to do with getting a job done; keeping track of who does what and what time line is needed for success. Maintenance functions have to do with keeping the personal relationships in the officer team on track; creating a fun environment, relieving tension, and helping to facilitate positive communication. Tower Building is a great exercise for highlighting the importance of both the need for task and maintenance functions to be met and interdependence in completing a project. This active learning experience can be helpful to an officer team as they learn what their leadership styles tend to be, as well as an activity the officer team could facilitate with the whole chapter.
One challenge I have experienced almost every year as a chapter advisor has to do with maintaining motivation in the officer team for the goals they have set out to accomplish. It helps to prioritize goals and encourage a realistic timeline for projects based on your experience with your specific campus. When officer teams see that they can accomplish tasks and they have developed trust in each other and themselves, it will be easier for them to stay motivated (Klein, et al., 2009). Continuing to develop trust and a fun, motivated environment is important to a well-functioning officer team.
There are several suggestions for continuing team development with your officer team. We do a training event at the beginning of each semester, which typically includes a trust/team-building activity. The Human Knot is an example of a more advanced trust-building activity where the team can practice communication and problem solving in a fun, active way. Other ideas for mid-year team training include ropes courses, team adventure activities, or an officers' retreat.
A major challenge to officer teams staying motivated is when there is conflict or controversy between team members. The most active, and unpleasant role a chapter advisor may take on with the officer team is when addressing such problems. Rather than waiting until it happens, and hoping it doesn't, a chapter advisor may be better served to do some training with the officer team on handling conflict and controversy. The above-mentioned exercises provide active opportunities for officer teams to develop skills for handling conflict constructively. Serving as a Psi Chi officer on a well-functioning officer team gives students an opportunity to develop group leadership skills. These skills include leading a team to goal accomplishment and developing communication skills; students will gain trust in the power of well-functioning teams and feel more confident in being able to recreate a well-functioning team in their future careers.
Driskell, J. E., Goodwin, G. F., Salas, E., & O'Shea, P. G. (2006). What makes a good team player? Personality and team effectiveness. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice
, 10, 249-271
Humphrey, S. E., Morgeson, F. P., & Mannor, M. J. (2009). Developing a theory of the strategic core of teams: A role composition model of team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology
, 94, 48-61.
Janis, I., & Mann, L. (1977). Decision making
. New York: Free Press.
Johnson, D. W. (2003). Social interdependence: The interrelationships among theory, research, and practice. American Psychologist, 58
Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, F. P. (2009). Joining together: Group theory and group skills
(10th ed.). Columbus, Ohio: Pearson Publishing.
Klein, C., DiazGranados, D., Salas, E., Le, H., Burke, C. S., Lyons, R., & Goodwin, G. F. (2009). Does teambuilding work? Small Group Research
, 40, 181-222.
Shepperd, J. (1993). Productivity loss in performance groups: A motivation analysis. Psychological Bulletin
, 113, 67-81.
Wakonse West Conference on College Teaching. (June, 1993) Sponsored by University Teaching Center, University of Arizona
Wilderdom, Games and team building. Retrieved from http://wilderdom.com/games
Wolfe, J., & Box, T. (1988). Team cohesion effects on business game performance. Simulation and Games, 19, 82-98.
Meet Your Mates
Get to know people’s names in a group in order to break the ice and discover commonalities and differences within a group
Provide a group with a list of four to five questions that each person answers privately on a sheet of paper or note pad. Then the group is charged with going around and finding other people who share their answers and writing names by the items that match. If you want to add in a competitive component, you can tell them the person with the most matches wins. Give them about 10 minutes to “interview” each other.
You can write questions that match the general topic or characteristic of the group or meeting, or they can be fairly generic. It’s nice to have a couple spontaneous questions involving the current group discussion/composition.
Here is a sample of possible questions:
- What is your favorite type of ethnic food?
- What was your favorite movie you saw in the last year?
- What is your least favorite household chore?
- What is your favorite type of pet?
- What’s your secret “vice”
- What type of job did you have growing up that you liked the least?
- What is something your boss does that you really like?
- How many matches did you find?
- How do you feel about the people in your group now?
- How has your comfort level with the group changed?
- White board or dry erase or some other method of providing questions.
- Small pads of paper for participants and writing materials.
- Space to move around in.
Approximate Time Required: 15 minutes
Source: Wakonse West Conference on College Teaching. (June, 1993) Sponsored by University Teaching Center, University of Arizona.
Blind Trust Walk
To encourage the experience of trustworthiness and trusting behavior in teams
Have working group divide into pairs, preferably with those they know the least. Give each pair a blindfold and explain that they will take turns leading each other around the environment blindfolded. In addition, once they leave the room/workspace, they will need to guide each other nonverbally, without speaking (guiding touch is fine). It’s a good idea to give them 5 minutes to work out their signals for start, stop right, left, up, down, etc… before they put on the blindfold and stop talking. I typically encourage some kind of continuous contact by the arm for example. Then give the teams about 10 minutes to take turns being leader and blind follower.
This activity is primarily recommended for adults or careful teens. I have even done this activity outside in a wooded area on a teen retreat.
- How did it feel to be the leader?
- How did it feel to be the blind follower?
- What did you learn about being trusting and trustworthy?
- A set of blindfolds—half as many as the size of your group. Bandanas folded on the diagonal work well for this.
- Method of keeping time
- A large area safe for exploration.
Approximate Time Required: About 30 minutes including discussion.
Source: Susan Becker, PhD, Mesa State College.
To help teams work together to solve a problem; to stimulate creative thinking. This is also a good energizer for a group.
Explain that this activity will require the teams to think fast and engage in problem solving together. Explain that there will be several rounds and create teams of 3 to 4 people per team (teams should all be the same size) and give each team a newspaper island (unfolded sheet).
- “When I say start each team needs to get their feet off the floor.”
- “Start!” (at this point all teams will jump on their newspaper island)
- “Good job that was fast. Now step off your island and fold it in ½ and put it back on the floor.”
- “When I say start, each team needs to get their feet off the floor.”
- “Good job again. Now fold the paper in half again.”
Continue this process until the paper is ridiculously small and someone finally figures out that they can just get up on furniture instead of using their tiny island.
- How did teamwork help you with your shrinking island?
- How did this activity stimulate your team’s creativity?
- Sheets of newspaper
- Workspace with furniture moved slightly back out of the way.
Approximate Time Required: 10 minutes
Source: Adapted from Wilderdom: http://wilderdom.com/games
To help teams develop strategies of problem solving; to give the team an opportunity for coached decision making.
Have your entire team sit in a circle and pull out all the spare change in their wallet, pocket, or purse. Have each individual count her or his own spare change and then put it all in a pile in the middle of the group. The group’s task is now to decide what to do with the money. The rules are that any decision is reasonable as long as they all agree unanimously. You can also let them know that the best decisions are made after a thorough discussion.
Use this decision making opportunity to coach the team on strategies for making decisions by consensus:
- Seek out differences of opinion: encourage all group members to express multiple opinions, to avoid group think
- Present their positions as clearly and logically as possible
- Critically analyze the positions of others
- Encourage all group members to present the best case possible for what they want or believe
- Encourage members to change their minds when persuaded by a better idea
- Avoid conflict-reducing procedures such as tossing a coin, bargaining, averaging, and majority vote
- Encourage them to keep the goal of reaching the best decision possible in mind
(Note: one solution is for them to each take their own money back)
- How do you feel about the group’s decision?
- What was difficult for you about participating in this kind of decision making?
- What type of decision making do you think will work best for this group?
Materials Required: None
Approximate Time Required: 15 minutes
Source: Susan Becker, Ph.D. Mesa State College
To provide a decision-making situation where controversy will occur.
- Form equal-sized groups from the people available (groups of 4-6 are ideal). One group comprising a leadership team is appropriate.
- Each group member individually completes the Fallout Shelter Ranking task (http://letscollaborate.org/pdf/CE100-FalloutShelter.pdf).
- Then give the group another copy of the Ranking Task to fill out by coming to consensus. Every member should agree with the ranking and be able to explain the rationale behind the ranking of each item.
- Score the accuracy of the group’s rating compared to their individual rankings by comparing to the experts’ ranking provided. Find the absolute difference between the group’s ranking and the experts’ ranking for each item, and add them together. The lower the score the more accurate the group’s (or individual’s) ranking.
- How did your rankings come out, were you better off with the group ranking or your own individual ranking?
- How did you feel about your group’s decision-making process when coming to consensus?
- What improvements to communicating will help your group make decisions in the future?
- Fallout shelter ranking sheets: one per person plus one per group.
- Expert ranking answer sheet: one per group.
- Writing implement
Approximate Time Required: 30-40 minutes
Source: Adapted from Exercise 8.5 in Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, F. P. (2009). Joining together: Group theory and group skills. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson.
To provide an opportunity to observe leadership behavior in a situation with intergroup competition and intragroup cooperation. This exercise will highlight leader and follower roles and behaviors.
- The exercise facilitator serves as a judge to determine which tower is a) the tallest, b) the strongest, and c) the cleverest. The facilitator may recruit another member to help judge.
- Divide large group into equal-sized teams (at least 3 members per team). If more members are available, create large teams (6 or 7) so each team can have an observer.
- Each group receives a box of supplies containing construction paper, newsprint, tape, magazines, crayons or markers, pipe cleaners, scissors, and glue stick. It’s okay to set the scale and assortment of supplies to match the environment of the task as long as each team has equal supplies.
- This is a nonverbal exercise: no talking among group members or between groups is allowed.
- The groups have 20 minutes to build their towers.
- During the 20 minutes, judges meet to decide how they will evaluate the towers and determine the winning team, which will win the prize (the better the prize, the more engaging the conflict will be). Candy is usually a good choice.
- How did you communicate and work together as a team without talking?
- Who took on leadership roles and who took on follower roles?
- How did your team maintain a positive working relationship with no talking?
Tower building supplies:
- Pipe cleaners
- Newspaper and construction paper
- Markers or crayons
- Glue stick
Method of keeping time
Approximate Time Required: 20-30 minutes
or up to an hour, depending on materials and age and capability of group
Source: Adapted from Exercise 5.8 in Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, F. P. (2009). Joining together: Group theory and group skills. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson.
To experience communication and trust building through positive physical contact and problem solving.
Be aware that the activity involves close physical proximity and touching potentially in sensitive places! It can be used as a first activity in an adventurous program; however, if the program is less adventurous, or group members potentially will have significant problems with such proximity (e.g., due to culture, or social or psychological problems), then Human Knot could be introduced later in a program.
- Ideal group size is approximately 10, but it can be done with anywhere from about 7 to 16; much higher or lower and the task doesn’t really work. The more in a group, the more difficult the task, partly because of the complexity, and partly because there is physically less room to move.
- Ask participants to form a circle, shoulder-to-shoulder. Encouraging/urging participants to all stand closer can be a subtle way of helping to prepare them for what is about to come.
- Ask participants to each place a hand in the middle of the circle and to grasp someone’s hand who is not right next to them.
- To emphasize learning of names and get a bit of fun going, ask participants to introduce themselves to the person they are holding hands with.
- Then ask participants to put their other hand in the middle, grasp a different person’s hand, and introduce themselves.
- Don’t let participants let go of hands; some will be tempted to think the activity might then be over, but it is only just starting.
- Explain to participants that what you’d like them to do is untangle themselves, without letting go of hands, into a circle.
- Participants may change their grip so as to be more comfortable, but they are not to unclasp and re-clasp so as to undo the knot.
- Stand back and see what happens.
- Be prepared to see little progress for quite some time (up to 10 minutes). However, once the initial unfolding happens, the pace towards the final solution usually seems to quicken.
- Most of the time a full circle falls out, but occasionally there are two or even three interlocking circles. So, really the task is to sort the knot out into its simplest structure.
- How do you feel about each other after completing this challenge?
- What kinds of communication did you need to use to complete this task safely?
Materials Required: None
Approximate Time Required: Approximately 15 minutes
Source: Adapted from Wilderdom: http://wilderdom.com/games
Susan Becker, PhD, is a professor of psychology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. She received her doctoral degree from the University of Arizona in clinical psychology. Since then she has devoted her career to training undergraduates in the introductory skills of clinical and counseling psychology, leadership, and team building. She was Mesa State College's distinguished faculty member in 2005 for her work mentoring undergraduate research. She has been a Psi Chi chapter advisor since 2003 where she has helped her chapter become leaders in community service.
Fall 2010 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 15, No. 1, p. 22), published by Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2010, Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.