I have recently completed a unit on facilitating collaboration in professional practice, which formed a part of my Diagnostic Radiography course. During this unit, my tutor introduced the class to the skill of reflective writing and its important role in both formal learning and personal development. In order to have an opportunity to practise this skill, we were each assigned groups tasks. I was part of a group of 10 people whose task it was to promote a governmental campaign aimed at publicising the Allied Health Professions. The campaign in question needed to target three key groups, namely primary school children, year 11 school children and graduates not taking healthcare courses.
In this essay, I will be reflecting on the experiences that I had as part of the larger group of 10 students, as well as how I found the process of dividing into smaller sub-groups of four people for part of the activities. Underpinning my personal reflections, and providing my essay with a coherent structure, will be Gibbs’ (1988) reflection model as outlined by Cooney (1999). This model describes a process of description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, and conclusion, and, as such, my personal reflection will also be organised under these headings.
The group work in which I participated took place over the course of a week. The first day was spent in collaborating on a variety of group activities. The participants in these groups were all from different backgrounds and included students taking courses in a variety of healthcare areas including radiography, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, and occupational therapy. Although the students were all from such allied health professional groups, there was a mixture of postgraduates and undergraduates, and the vast majority of the students had not met each other before.
In order to tackle the task, we decided to separate it into smaller tasks according to the three target audiences involved, dividing ourselves into three smaller groups and working on one target audience per sub-group. At this point, I was part of the group of four people who were responsible for considering the campaign to target graduates not taking healthcare courses. As some group members had responsibilities outside the unit, we decided as a whole that it would be useful to utilise the discussion boards via Blackboard to communicate with other members of the larger group. Our smaller sub-group decided to have meetings at the university during the week in addition to this means of contact.
The work progressed in this way for most of the week until, on the last day, the groups joined together for one key session in the afternoon. At this time, we worked together to give our presentation for the campaign that we had devised, for which we had a 10-15 minute window. In preparation for this session, our three sub-groups had a meeting in the morning to discuss the presentation and finalise issues such as how the material was going to be presented and who would be acting as our group’s spokespeople. We also made use of this final discussion session to voice whether we agreed or disagreed with several assertions that had been raised through working on the campaign. This session went well in general and was successful. I found that I did participate, but perhaps not to the extent that I would have liked. Overall, I experienced that all of the group members came to know each other on a personal level through working together over the week to complete our tasks.
Although I was relatively quiet at the start of the session, I became more comfortable as time went on and, by the end of the session, I had begun to contribute my views and ideas to the group discussion. I believe that this initial quietness was a manifestation of my inner feelings of being intimidated by the group. Interestingly, the overall session actually went well and many group members expressed their enthusiasm about the discussion topics. These feelings of intimidation were more acute after the sub-groups reunited as a larger group of 10. I believe that this was because I had become accustomed through the week to working in a small group of only four people, and suddenly becoming part of a much larger group threw my habitual role in the group into uncertainty. I usually experience myself as a very confident person who finds it easy to take charge of situations and engage with activities in a proactive way. However, this was not the case during the aforementioned group session.
In retrospect, if I had been in a group of people with whom I had felt comfortable then, regardless of the size of the group, I believe that I would have participated fully in the discussion by contributing as many ideas as possible. In this scenario, I would neither have felt anxious about making a mistake nor experienced the self-censorship that came as a consequence of this anxiety.
Overall, I found that the experience of group work was very useful in that it gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal about the topics being discussed as well as helping to illuminate my weaknesses when working with unfamiliar groups. As Moon (1999) asserts, the importance of experiential learning is that it entails organising and developing learning through reflection on practical situations, such that they can lead to improved action. My experience of the group work has made this developmentally valuable reflection possible.
The tasks also gave me the opportunity to come into contact with a variety of people from different professional backgrounds, some of whom were older and much more experienced than I. Working in a multi-professional group allowed us to benefit from a number of different perspectives on the task as well as a wide variety of knowledge and experience. This made our presentation much more well-rounded and multi-faceted than it would have been if my group had contained only other radiographers. As the group work progressed, I also began to realise that I was, in fact, more than capable of fulfilling my part in this mixed group and this gradual self-confidence enabled me to overcome the feelings of intimidation that being on unfamiliar territory had initially elicited within me. Towards the end of the session, I began to wish that we could begin the session a second time to allow me to contribute more and be perceived as an active member of the group. Looking back, I would attribute my only regrets regarding the group task to this inability to contribute more, perhaps even to the extent of acting as spokesperson during the presentation itself.
Initially, I was somewhat sceptical about the idea of the group sessions as I did not appreciate that there was anything valuable to be learned from the collaborative process. However, by the end of the process I had learnt a great deal about the complexities of group work and the way in which people from different professional backgrounds can complement the task by offering a much greater depth of experience. I also increased my knowledge of a number of topics to which I may never have exposed otherwise.
The group work also revealed that I rarely make a substantial contribution to group discussions or volunteer for leadership roles in group tasks, preferring instead to avoid the limelight and allow another group member to take the lead. My contributions are then made on the basis of topics already raised by others. This weakness does not stem from a lack of intellectual understanding but rather from a lack of confidence in my own ideas, even when these are valid. An awareness of this tendency to pass the buck will inform my future group interactions and, I hope, facilitate my taking a more proactive role in dictating the course of discussions.
According to the Belbin theory of team roles, I would assess myself as naturally occupying the roles of Team Worker, Resource Investigator and Implementer. The reason why I have identified myself as an Implementer is based firstly on the fact that I took on the responsibility for carrying out the task of researching the use of social networks in our campaign and I enjoyed executing this plan, which we had agreed amongst the group as a whole, in a systematic fashion. The title of Resource Investigator also applies to me as I used these social networks as one of a variety of means to search for useful contacts. As the Belbin theory states (2010), a Resource Investigator explores opportunities and makes useful links with internal and external contacts. Also, I received high marks from my peers for the ability to ‘identif(y) sources and other resources to aid team progress’. I believe that the title of Team Worker also applies to me as, even though I felt that I could have contributed more, my peer feedback actually shows that I was perceived by other group members as a good team player. I received high marks for the category of contributing to a collaborative team environment and the comments given on my feedback sheets included ‘active and excellent team member who can be relied upon’ and ‘considerate and pleasant group contributor’. These comments demonstrate that I was seen by others as an important and active member of the team.
My experience of working in my group was that we developed a good decision-making process which we were able to use to come to a mutually-agreed conclusion on the majority of topics that we discussed. We also set clear boundaries about how the group would operate; for example, the ground rules that we devised on the first day were as follows:
There will be three individual threads for discussion by each sub-group.
On Thursday everyone is to check in to ensure that all work is ready.
The sub-groups will send their PowerPoints to David by 3pm on Thursday so that he can amalgamate the PowerPoints into one presentation.
The whole group is to meet at 11am on Friday in the café outside the library to prepare for the presentation. A room will be arranged.
A poster will be produced for each category.
The sub-groups will arrange amongst themselves which method they wish to use to communicate and prepare for the presentation.
The sub-groups will decide the media which they will use to promote the AHP.
I found these ground rules very useful in giving the group clarity and structure and allowing us to work effectively on common goals. This experience highlighted to me the importance of the ‘forming’ stage as described by Tuckman in his Group Development Model (1965). Although at this stage each team member is keen to be accepted by others, and serious issues are therefore usually avoided, it is a very important stage in team-building. I indeed found this stage to be the time when the group members were getting to know each other, on both a personal and professional level, and forming an idea of how the group would be working together over the forthcoming week. I believe that, without this ‘forming’ stage being completed successfully, we would not have had the basis of understanding that enabled us to progress to the ‘storming’ stage, in which we came up with a number of different ideas, the ‘norming’ stage, when we came to make the mutual decisions about how to write our campaign presentation. This early decision-making process was important as it allowed us all to participate and to feel motivated in working towards the group’s eventual success in producing a good-quality presentation.
The main ethical concern that I had when embarking on this group work exercise was to ensure that each member of the group, including myself, would be treated with respect and in a polite manner. As stated by Dubrin:
‘Showing respect for team members is a general technique for building teamwork’. (2011, pp.487)
My experience of treating others with respect, for example by asking whether someone has managed to finish their part of the task rather than demanding that it be ready, certainly reinforced this theory as I was marked highly by my peers for facilitating communication and cohesion within the group.
Diversity and difference
There was a diverse range of people in the larger group of which I was a part; both males and females, undergraduates and postgraduates of varying ages, and also many different personality characteristics including introverts, extroverts, those who were better at coming up with ideas and those who were better at the organisational side. Rather than causing difficulties, these differences actually meant that our discussions were more varied and interesting, and that our team functioned well through each member playing to their respective strengths. I personally learnt a lot from the group members who were older than me, and felt that I benefitted a great deal from watching the mature way in which they went about resolving conflict to come to a good group consensus. The way in which we all participated in devising the ground rules on the first day created a strong team spirit, an important aspect in the successful management of diversity as Klarsfeld mentions in his recent book (2010).
Management of power and conflict
Conflict naturally occurs in most group tasks as a consequence of group members having different values, skills and experience. Indeed, Rahim cites a study carried out in 2005 to assert that:
‘a moderate level of substantive conflict is functional, as it stimulates discussion and debate.’ (2010, pp. 122)
This was also my experience of the group work. At points throughout the process there was an element of natural disagreement about the direction that our campaign presentation would take and the best way to complete our activities. I found that this motivated other group members to join in more and also lead to interesting discussions that created further good ideas.
I found that the power balance was fairly equal in our group, despite the range of ages and personalities that were represented. The only issue that arose was that one of the girls in the group attempted to dominate at times by getting others to think in the same way as her. As the other group members were more mature and open to other people’s input, we were able to manage this by steering the discussions down a more collaborative path.
From a clinical point of view, this experience will stand me in good stead for the future. In clinical settings health care professionals are most commonly called upon to work in teams that span different areas such as nursing, physiotherapy and occupational therapy in order to provide the best all-round care for their patients. Radiographers such as myself also work in teams of two most of the time so it is very important to understand how to co-operate with others in a professional setting.
In conclusion, I found the group work to be a very educational experience concerning the importance of being able to work well in a team. I have been alerted to aspects of my behaviour and personality, particularly with regards to interactions with unfamiliar people, of which I may otherwise have remained unaware. The main aspect that I would like to improve is my confidence, which will enable me to contribute more of my ideas to group work. This will help me at university as well as in my future work as a professional radiographer collaborating with a multi-disciplinary team. Overall, I found Gibbs’ model helpful in focusing on each of the different areas of the experience in order to evaluate my strengths, such as good teamwork and carrying out tasks in a systematic way, as well as areas such as those mentioned above that I would like to improve.
Belbin, M., 2010. Management teams: why they succeed or fail. 3rd ed. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Cooney, A., 1999. Reflection demystified: answering some common questions. British Journal of Nursing. 8(22), 1530-1534.
Dubrin, A.J., 2011. Essentials of management. Andover: Cengage Learning.
Gibbs, G., 1998. Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning. London: FEU.
Klarsfeld, A., 2010. International handbook on diversity management at work: country perspectives on diversity and equality. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Rahim, M.A., 2010. Managing conflict in organizations. 4th rev. ed. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Tuckman, B., 1965. Development sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin. 63, 384-399.
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