The Everest Simulation allows participants to experience group dynamics and leadership through the dramatic online setting of a Mount Everest expedition while playing one of five roles on a team of hikers. As part of the course curriculum, I was randomly assigned to be the leader and worked with 4 other students. I participated in the simulation twice, first as a virtual team in separate locations, then as a team in the same location. I experienced an improvement over the two simulations both as a team and individually, with scores of 85-87% and 85-91% respectively. The purpose of this report is to elucidate areas for selfimprovement to become an exceptional team leader and member. This will be done through the delineation of my experiences of the simulations and explanation of its relevance to the three central themes of Leadership, Groups and Teams and Communication. In the following paragraphs, I will critically analyse my team’s performance and experiences based on the aforementioned concepts.
1. Performance: Improvement in Scores and Timing
Overall, both my individual and team score improved from 85-91% and 85-87% respectively. In addition, my team took a shorter time to complete the second simulation with a timing of 40 minutes as compared to the initial 2 hours taken. Achieving a higher score in a shorter time is a strong indicator that my team made a remarkable improvement. Furthermore, our final score is a clear reflection of our stellar effectiveness and efficiency in working as a team. After each simulation, I created an online shared document for members to share their experiences via debrief questions. This helped to provide critical feedback on possible improvements both individually and as a team.
1.1 Relevance of Leadership in Performance
For the first simulation, I adopted a democratic leadership style. I would encourage the participation and input of members, allowing members to take part in decision making and reach to a consensus on issues such as progression to the next camp and allocation of supplies. Democratic leadership has been found to promote willingness of employees to voice constructive ideas, thus providing improvements to the organisation and the way it functions (Vaccaro, et al., 2012). A quintessential source of leadership in organisations is the facilitating and influencing of individual and group efforts. This leads to the achievement of collective objectives (Yukl, 2012). My democratic style led to member “buy-in” and higher team motivation, which generated a more cohesive and efficient teamwork and ultimately a good result. However, this came at the cost of completing the simulation over a longer span of time. This was because it is time-consuming to reach consensus, and members may have been confused by which direction and commands to follow (Rubin, 2013).
For the second simulation, I adopted a situational leadership style with a mix of both democratic and laissez-faire. I continued to encourage the participation of members, and use a consensus decision making for team decisions like progression to the next camp. For individual decisions such as allocation of medical supplies, oxygen canisters and prediction of weather, I gave the team complete freedom in these decisions and tasks. I felt that the evolution of leadership style from democratic to a slightly more laissez-faire style benefitted the team. Having proven their decision-making acumen by making good and sound decisions in simulation one, it was therefore reasonable to fully empower members such as the physician and marathoner to make independent decisions and predictions within the agreed boundary of maintaining our shared goal of avoiding rescue (Goodnight, 2004). The individual empowerment in some decisions resulted in higher efficiency as less time was spent reaching a consensus for such decisions. However, the empowerment members receive can prove to be overwhelming to those who are not self-motivated and self-directed (Rubin, 2013). Fortunately, my team was generally motivated and focused, which led to an improvement of 2% in score and 66% reduction in time taken with the usage of this situational leadership style.
In hindsight, I felt that my leadership could be improved by utilising the contingency theories of leadership, in particular, the Hersey Situational Leadership Model. Under this model, for situations such as the first simulation, where members were unable and insecure to do a task due to unfamiliarity and inexperience, a telling (high task-low relationship) leadership style should be adopted. For the second simulation, where members were able and confident, a delegating (low task- low relationship) leadership style should be adopted. 1.2 Relevance of Groups and Teams in Performance
In simulation one, we attempted it as a virtual, future team. Prior to the simulation, we had little experience as an intact team but anticipated an extended future of doing simulation two with fellow members (Alge, et al., 2003). Communication was done via a synchronous computer mediated chat that was provided in- simulation. In simulation two, we attempted it as a physical, past team. We had experiences with each other, yet anticipate little future interaction together (Alge, et al., 2003).
Drawing from Tuckman’s Group Development Model, my team underwent the forming and storming stage prior to simulation one, and proceeded to the norming stage during the simulation. The norming stage was not done prior to the simulation due to members’ conflicting schedules, resulting in the team lacking a common goal during the simulation, and members being unwilling to give up their individual goals to make the team function (Boss, 1995).
We improved in simulation two by undergoing a re-norming stage and drafted out a team contract, setting the norms of team procedures, participation and personal accountability. We came up with the common goal of first doing well in team tasks and achieving the team goal before maximizing the achievement of our individual goals. There were clear strategies that we agreed on employing to resolve conflict, encourage participation and achieve our goal. My team was able to arrive at the performing stage during the simulation which is consistent with our higher score and reduced timing.
Furthermore, due to the participative nature of leadership in both simulations, there was presence of group decision-making. This contributed to our high performance as it helped us generate more diverse alternatives and also provide more complete information and knowledge. However, the downsides of this was that it was more time-consuming, which was apparent in our first simulation and there were pressures to conform, such as the environmentalist having to proceed together with the team despite her opinion that she would not survive the expedition.
From this, I realised the importance and consequential nature of each stage of group development (Maples, 2008) and that a task or problem should be attempted when a team is in a performing stage to attain optimum results.
1.3 Relevance of Communication in Performance
The high score achieved in simulation one in spite of relatively inferior leadership and group structure, highlighted the fact that effectual online communication within the team was the chief factor of our good performance. Our improved score and timing in simulation two was a clear indicator of the effectual and superior face-to-face communication over virtual communication. It is evident that communication is crucial for problem solving in an organisation, and it can create a tight-knitted community with a high dedication to the organisation’s cause (Elving, 2005).
In simulation one, my team experienced benign disinhibition, a positive form of online disinhibition. We were more affectionate and more willing to open up, by sharing information relevant to the tasks at hand (Suler, 2004). According to Suler (2004), the online disinhibition effect resulted in the minimization of status and authority. Members were less fearful of my disapproval and therefore more forthcoming in their views on certain decisions and tasks. This widened the team’s knowledge and information, resulting in our good performance. In simulation two, my team communicated proficiently as a physical team. Barriers to effective communication was a major concern as it could negatively affect performance of groups and teams in an organisation (Radhaswamy, 2011).
Furthermore, studying in University of New South Wales, with a vibrant and diverse student culture, differences in language will hinder communication (Gould, 1969). My team managed to overcome these challenges and excelled. We accomplished this by providing each other feedback (Haggerman, 2002) and through active listening (Young & Post, 1993). Feedback was given in the form of asking questions for clarification and active listening was carried out through avoiding the interruption of the speaker and the exhibition of affirmative head nods and facial expressions. Fortunately, my team did not encounter any langauge barriers as English was the first language of all members. Even as an international student from Singapore compared to the remaining members who are locals, there were minimal differences in our cultures due to our similar ethnicity.
A high level of communication is positively related to group cohesiveness (Lott & Lott, 1961). My team’s effective communication in both simulations allowed for increased group cohesiveness, which made us an effective team (Mullen & Copper, 1994). Communication effectiveness strongly influenced leader performance (Neufield, et al., 2010). The high level of communication also accounted for my above-average leader performance in spite of my poor choice of leadership style in simulation one. In retrospect, I realised the significance of communication in effective team performance and its positive influence on both leadership performance and effective team structure. In order to become an exceptional team leader or member in the future, an improvement in communication skills is essential.
2. Experiences: Handling Conflicts and Human Error
Throughout both simulations, it was inevitable that my team encountered conflicts, technical and human errors. The occurrence of these incidents, be it foreseen or unforeseen, provided valuable insights to my team’s reaction and resolution to them. Significant incidents of note were: (1) Environmentalist suffering from an asthma attack in both simulations, (2) Allocation of oxygen canisters from Camp 4 to the summit in both simulations, (3) Incorrect weather prediction in simulation two.
Task-based conflicts can be resolved by sharing information with one another.
Both incidents (1) and (2) were instances of task-based and relationship conflicts and they were resolved in both simulations as observed in the environmentalist avoiding rescue and passing the oxygen allocation task. Incident (3) was an incident of human error. 2.1 Relevance of Leadership in Experiences
Effective leadership in the form of good exercise of power will help to eliminate conflict in groups (Peterson & Harvey, 2009). Using my referent power as a leader, I was able to direct an inclusive group process. By encouraging discussion of possible alternatives and respecting the concerns and feelings of members, I was able to resolve task-based conflicts (Peterson & Harvey, 2009). This was evident in the group’s sharing of information on medical symptoms and individual oxygen consumption rate and being successful in those tasks. Furthermore, the successful inclusive of a group process helped foster a climate of trust in the group. When the environmentalist experienced an asthma attack, she trusted the information we shared and our judgement, which in turn resulted in her avoiding rescue. Her trust in the team prevented the misattribution of debates as personal attacks and minimized relationship conflict (Peterson & Harvey, 2009).
The laissez-faire leadership style in allowing incompetent members full empowerment in decision making was the root cause of why the marathoner failed to correctly predict the weather in simulation two (Goodnight, 2004). The marathoner’s inconsistency in decisionmaking was not taken into consideration when I was deciding to empower members because members’ consistency were undeterminable solely based on the results of one simulation. 2.2 Relevance of Groups and Teams in Experiences
Effective conflict management is closely attributed to high levels of group performance (Peterson & Harvey, 2009). Our effective conflict management was chiefly due to our small group size (Thomas & Fink, 1963). Compared to a larger group, we were able to be more productive with the information we shared with each other and resolve the task-conflicts that arose in both simulations. I felt that this group size was ideal as it also prevents social loafing, allowing every member to remain highly motivated and committed. Our group adopted an accommodating conflict management in simulation one, where we resolved conflicts by placing another’s needs and concerns above our own (Somech, et al., 2009). In simulation two, we used a compromising approach, resolving conflicts by each member forgoing some of their individual goals to achieve a higher team score.
Upon reflection, I felt that a collaboration-orientated style of conflict management should be adopted for both simulations, whereby members seek an advantageous solution for all parties. This will not only improve team score, but also enhance individual scores. Owing to the fact that a laissez-faire leadership style for individual decisions was adopted in simulation two meant that group decision making did not take place during these decisions. As such, less complete information and knowledge was provided and an ill-informed and inaccurate decision was made in the marathoner’s prediction of weather. It is therefore integral to be able to correctly discern if future tasks require group or individual decision making. Individual decision making results in faster and more efficient decisions, but it comes at a cost of being inaccurate.
2.3 Relevance of Communication in Experiences
In both simulations, an all-channel form of communication network was used, allowing a smooth and free flow of communication amongst members. This allowed for a fast and relatively accurate exchange of information for the team to resolve task-conflicts. Team members were more motivated and committed as a result of a high satisfaction derived through usage of this communication network (Guetzkow & Simon, 1955). A downside to this communication network was the prevalence of information overload due to the fast paced nature of this network. This was evident in the marathoner being overloaded with the weather information we shared him. The amount of information he had to work with exceeded his processing capacity and as a result, the team failed the weather challenge in simulation two.
While an all-channel form of communication is fast, moderately accurate and provides a high member satisfaction, it is important to manage information properly to avoid overload.
Leadership, Groups and Teams and Communication have proven to be pivotal factors to the successful completion of both simulations. Based on the information and critical analyses made, it was very clear that the various approaches our team took in relation to various management theories influenced work process of the simulations. There is no single fixed formula to become an exceptional team leader and member. Through this exercise, I have gained insights on the different styles of leadership, communication and group and team structure, as well as their applications in the future to become an exceptional team leader and member. Eventually, this will equip me with the necessary skillset to achieve more effective and efficient team performance.
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