|Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2010|
Eye on Psi Chi
Fall 2010 | Volume 15 | Issue 1
Building a Strong Officer Team
Susan Becker, PhD,
Experienced 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):
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:
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, 931-945.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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:
(Note: one solution is for them to each take their own money back)
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.
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.
Tower building supplies:
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.
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.
Copyright 2010 (Volume 15, Issue 1) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology