The Harvard Business Everest Leadership and Team Simulation allow participants to understand and appreciate underlying management concepts which form the basis of any well functioning organisation. Specifically, the simulation required students to work in cohesive teams, display important leadership qualities and to communicate effectively in order to make successful decisions. The Everest task involves the cooperation and cohesion of random individuals through their placement in a team. These teams consisted of five members, where each individual was assigned specific role and goals.
These roles included the team leader, physician, environmentalist, photographer, and marathoner.
Individuals goals were often contradictory and team members received unique, however important information concerning the task. This simulation aims to discover the way in which teams react in complex and often conflicting situations. Through a series of trials and tribulations, our Everest group were able to increase our score from 22% to 85% in the second simulation. This is a result of the exploration of various behavioural leadership styles including laissez faire and democratic leadership approaches as well as the use of various mediums of communication.
In addition, the results of the simulation were highly dependent on cohesive team work through the allocation of individual roles and goals, as well as the organisation of group processes including the decision making process and conflict management.
The role of the leader in the Everest simulation was to motivate, instruct, resolve conflict and achieve group goals. I, as the team leader, made the point of differentiating myself from a manager, to someone who was extraverted, energetic and driven, within and outside of the simulation.
This involved organising location times and communication between members, drawing up the team contract and building relationships between team members beyond the classroom. During the simulation however I chose to adopt a less prominent role to minimise conflict and maximise satisfaction.
During the initial simulation I implemented a laissez- faire approach to leadership. I adopted this form of behaviour as I was no more skilled or experienced in the Everest simulation than any other team member. Logically, I believed that as all team members had equal ability, all team members should therefore have equal input. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming presence of freedom, conflict of interests and an abundance of communication barriers due to the poor choice in leadership styles, an environment of chaos and anarchy was created. In effect, the group failed the task. On a positive note, this form of leadership saw the group bond together and the level of satisfaction was high. Furthermore, the level of pressure for team members to perform under this form of management was minimal; hence the lack of success achieved was minute.
During the second attempt, I chose to adopt a democratic style of leadership. Once again, I was no more informed than any other member of the group concerning the correct performance of the task; hence I chose not to make autocratic decisions. I did however note the need for structure in any given task. Therefore, the decision making process was composed of a long winded discussion between group members, followed by a vote through a raise of hands. If a consensus was not reached between group members, I would then speak personally to the group member who was in disagreement and explain the decision.
This sort of conflict often arose when individual goals, set by the Everest task, conflicted with each other. For example, the photographer’s goal was to rest at Base 1 and 2; however my goal was for the team to rest together at camp 4. Often I voted for other members individual goals to be met rather than my own, when they were of equal worth, in order to avoid conflict. As a result, my individual success was 75%, lower than the team’s success average of 85%.
Furthermore, research suggests that conflict in the decision making process promotes creativity amongst group members (Nemeth 1986), higher levels of commitment and satisfaction from group members (Peterson 1999), and group members become more knowledgeable about the interests of their co workers (Peterson 2007). In comparison to the first simulation, this result was evident in the second attempt. On the other hand, the decision making process was time consuming. Luckily, there were no time constraints, however, towards the end of the task, group members including myself, became tiresome and overworked.
Eventually, I began to lose control of my group and those with the most useful information provided to them during the simulation began to consult with each other. At this stage, there was no structure in group discussions and people spoke over each other, similar to the first simulation. Naturally, the majority of the group became disinterested until two group members worked together to determine a successful outcome. Hence, a laissez- faire approach to leadership was successful in small groups. Overall, the democratic approach, like the laissez- faire approach, was enjoyable and good for conflict resolution, however using this approach we also achieved a solid team score.
In hindsight, I believe a more autocratic approach to leadership should have been employed in order to improve the team score and to minimise time wastage. An article by Judge, Piccolo and Ilies (2004) suggested an initiating structure of leadership is highly correlated to objective outcomes including “leader job performance and group – organisation performance” (Judge, Piccolo and Ilies 2004 pp36). If I, as leader, were more informed concerning the task at hand, this form of leadership would have been more efficient, in order to avoid the interminable decision making process.
In order to successfully complete the simulation, it was imperative that the group functioned as a coherent and cohesive team. This involved the fusion of task work and team work to create team effectiveness, as “task work represents what it is that teams are doing, whereas teamwork describes how they are doing it with each other” (Marks, Mathieu, & Zaccaro, 2001, p. 357). As team leader I aimed to create a balance between task work and team work in order to successfully complete the Everest simulation.
The Everest task provided the group with specific formal member roles and goals, which were designed to create a cross functional team. However, as no member was particularly skilled or specialised in the literal sense concerning the Everest simulation, the team was slightly dysfunctional. For example, in the first simulation, the physician was unaware of which medicine cures which disease, and when to administer the medicine, and the environmentalist was unable to read a wind chart. Due to the lack of knowledge evident, the task was time consuming, chaotic and unsuccessful.
In terms of informal roles, our team actively made the decision to allocate task accomplishment as our main goal, as mentioned in the team contract. This involved clarifying, diagnosing, initiating, evaluating, opinion seeking, gathering information and summarising the task at hand. I however, as the team leader, focused on ensuring that the group interacted in a friendly and cooperative manner in order to guarantee high levels of satisfaction amongst members through handling disputes, and by limiting the presence of self oriented goals which hindered the overall task performance. This was achieved through my encouragement, gate keeping, following and compromising as team leader.
Furthermore, the team dealt with issues concerning conformity and groupthink. This occurred on a number of occasions as individuals were often confused and uninformed concerning particular decisions, and wanted to avoid conflict when co members became passionate. This often occurred when the decision came to allow sick individuals to rest or be administered medicine. I, as team leader, aimed to prevent groupthink by encouraging discussion and critical thinking and through asking questions. I also located an individual from outside of the group who had previously attempted Everest to evaluate the situation and to provide a reasoned opinion during our decision making process. This was highly successful as team members, including myself, changed their decision based on an outside opinion.
Whilst the team was fairly small, the group processes were complex. The decision making process was led by, for the most part, a democratic leader. As stated previously, a decision was made after a detailed discussion between members, followed by a group vote. If a consensus was not apparent, I, as team leader, would speak to the individual concerning the issue. This process was very effective. The discussion provided more complete information and knowledge, through the diversity of the perspectives of group members. In turn, the group generated more diverse alternatives concerning issues including choosing to rest at different levels, or to administer medicine at different times. Furthermore, a group decision increased the legitimacy of that decision through the democratic process. On the other hand, this process was time- consuming and promoted minority domination and conformity. This may have harmed the quality of the final decision.
Fortunately, this decision making process limited conflict. However, as the human relations view of conflict states, conflict is “a natural and inevitable outcome in any group”. Our Everest team predominately faced task- based conflict, or “a disagreement over ideas or opinions that are related directly to the content of the task or decision at hand” (Jehn, 1995). For example, the individual goals of certain team members clashed. This meant that if one goal was to be satisfied, the other would be sacrificed.
This particular issue was handled through leadership strategies, similar to those proposed by Peterson and Harvey. I, as leader, chose to structure the group in a position whereby I exerted a subtle authority through controlling group discussions in order to “maximise the useful aspects of task-related conflict” (Peterson and Harvey 2009 pp 286). Additionally, through the democratic leadership style employed, I directed an inclusive group process through a group voting system via a raise of hands and an in depth group discussion whereby every member was asked to participate.
Communication refers to the transfer and understanding of meaning. Our Everest group explored this concept informally, through a variety of different mediums, mostly on a trial and error basis. During the organisational stages of the task, our group communicated through various modern technological mediums including a common thread via the social networking site Facebook, group emails, and a forwarded text message informing fellow group members of the final time, location and date.
This proved to be a fast and time effective form of communication which increased organisational efficiency and effectiveness. Furthermore, no team member was constrained by time or geography. As stated in an article by the New York Times “wireless devices are instruments of liberation. They lend an unprecedented degree of flexibility to the workday” (Hafner 2000 pp D1+). There was however no transfer of body language and non verbal communication between group members, which may have contributed to the lack of social interaction and friendship formed during and outside of the task.
Due to the success of the organisational efforts via to the use of technology, I as team leader made the decision to conduct the first Everest simulation with team members at separate locations. Therefore, all communication was processed via the instant messaging service provided by the simulation. Unfortunately it was extremely difficult to process information via the instant messaging service alone as each group member was provided with differing, useful and sometimes visual information. Furthermore the instant messaging service provided by the Everest simulation included approximately three seconds of dialogue at any one time. This made it very difficult for me as team leader to instruct an organised group discussion whilst people were ‘typing’ over each other.
The presence of noise also made it difficult to focus. The internet is an endless avenue of entertainment, social networking and gaming. Unknowingly, however predictably, team members were not focused on the task due to the lack of self control and discipline evident whilst being on the internet. As a result of the abundance of communication barriers, the team failed the Everest simulation.
Due to the failure of the first Everest attempt, our group made the active decision to conduct the second simulation in the same room. This forged the ability for the team to communicate non verbally, through body language and verbal intonation. This was particularly effective during the decision making process where I as the leader could gage the reactions and beliefs of fellow team members concerning particular issues. Research by Alge, Wiethoff and Klein came to the conclusion that ‘face to face teams exhibit higher levels of openness/trust and information sharing than computer mediated teams’ (Alge, Wiethoff and Klein, 2003 pp 26). In comparison, our results in the Everest simulation whilst employing various mediums of communication prove this conclusion.
However, whilst the level of noise in comparison to the first simulation decreased, it was still apparent. The second simulation was undertaken in a large public room, and as a result our computers were not side by side. We were disrupted by outside noise and were unable to discuss openly and loudly. This made it difficult to communicate and as a result, group members became disinterested in the task. In both simulations, effective interpersonal communication was interrupted by an information overload.
As key information was being delivered by each group member, each member’s informational capacity was becoming strained. As a result, people including myself became disinterested in the task and chose to not participate as coherently as before. In order to overcome such barriers, it was imperative that each member constrained their emotions, watched non verbal cues and listened actively. This involved not over talking, avoiding interrupting the speaker, making eye contact and asking questions, particularly during the decision making process.
Ultimately, the success of the Everest simulation was highly dependent on efficient communication mediums, effective leadership approaches and cohesive team work. As a team leader, I determined success to be task accomplishment, team member satisfaction, superior conflict resolution and legitimate decision making. Through the democratic approach employed, I deem myself successful as I was able to incorporate individual team members opinions into an effective decision making process whilst dealing with conflict. In summary, the Everest task highlighted the importance of teamwork and the significance of the individual role in any given task.