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Group Dynamics (May 24th)

It’s official. In the opening of the 21st Century, getting environmental work done in the U.S. (and probably in most other countries) requires that the public sector, the private sector, and government work together. No more just doing your own thing, figuring something out (e.g., ecosystems provide valuable services to society and therefore saves society money, creates healthier lives, etc.), and then waiting for everyone to just take care of it on their own (e.g., conserving ecosystems). Our ecological connections are just too intertwined and our political and economic connections bind us all together.


Bottom line. Spend your whole life learning to work with other people. It is not easy, and there are many potential skills that can make this easier. Your reading and listening this week were selected to help convince you that groups are important and working in groups takes skill. Some of these skills you can learn from books and listening to others’ advice. Some of these skills you have to learn by trial and error.

What’s your advice? Comment below….

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Dan Hale
    September 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm | #1

    Having read and listened to the material provided, and knowing the things I’ve learned from personal experience, I can say with little doubt that collaboration is crucial to forging real progress, especially in the environmental field. In striving for environmental conservation and justice, we are working to change the current situation. This must be done with the collaboration and cooperation of many individuals, coming from very different backgrounds. We must not only strive to resolve conflicts and find common ground with disputing parties, but also work as a cohesive, cheerful, united, and productive team ourselves. Some of the information and tips provided were very interesting and helpful for me.

    Last year, when I took ENSC 202 – Ecological Risk Asssessment, we were assigned a semester-long project to analyze the risks and rewards of drilling Marcellus Shale natural gas in New York and Pennsylvania. My group was able to work well together by maintaining open communication, clearly setting out expectations and deadlines, and fostering an environment of professionalism and mutual respect. Knowing that my teammates were counting on me motivated me to do quality work in a timely manner. We covered a mass of information and material that no single one of us could have done on their own. It was a very positive experience that reassured me of the importance and necessity of group work.

    Starting with the “This American Life” audio file, I found it interesting to note that one person can change the mood and consequently productivity of a group. The one instance of this bad apple rendering ineffective was when a diplomat’s son deflected the negative behavior and directed the group to productively carry out the exercise. This person was so well adjusted and socially adept that he could handle the disruptions. He had desirable skills which we all could benefit in learning. The other information I found useful was the power of listening. The researcher was planning another survey studying how a leader could successfully guide a group by asking questions. The importance of listening (specifically active listening) was echoed in the “Groups are Fun, Groups are Not Fun” reading.

    This reading was helpful in that it first identified the value of group work. It not only answered the question “How?,” but also Why?.” Group work is valuable in that productivity is increased, the members together bring along a wider range of information, and all together better decisions are made. It was interesting to note that teachers will assign group work for the extra reason that it gives students practice in mastering the skills of working well together. Next the article went on to mention the “forming, storming, norming, and performing” framework. I’ve used this before in outing club leader training, and have found it to be rather accurate. I’ve also seen versions of it that include reforming and adjourning, suggesting that participants adapt their methods as they go along and disband in an orderly, conclusive manner. It’s helpful to realize the phases groups go through, and to adapt accordingly. Reading about groupthink reminded me that one must always think as an individual and remain objective.

    Finally, in reading chapter 8 of the Environmental Problem Solving Book, the most meaningful thing I picked up was the quote by Rudolf Flesch. It was at once alarming and telling, to read that we need to distrust our own ideas. This attitude can lead to finding the best consensus in groups. Another useful tip, which goes along with the other two readings perfectly, is to frequently do round-robins in the group, asking how everyone is doing and where they stand. This again stresses the importance of listening. Another tip is to remain realistic in expectations and goals, and to take some time off when no progress is being made.

  2. Deane
    May 24, 2010 at 7:58 pm | #2

    Jessica points out many useful skills in working in groups… obviously learned from her many experiences in school… and probably life. An effective group needs to be made up of folks with these skills and attitudes. Given the uncertainties of the 21st Century and the need to take action to influence that future in a more sustainable direction, we need more folks willing to work together. It’s going to be a tough road, so I guess we will have to learn to do the hard work together. The Motto of Vermont is “Freedom and Unity.” A bit contradictory… as freedom implies individual choice and unity implies community choice. I think what these early Vermonters had in mind was choosing freely to work together.

  3. Jessica Fefer
    May 24, 2010 at 12:16 pm | #3

    The fact that environmental issues require that people work in groups to come up with solutions was made clear to me from the beginning of my studies here at UVM. In talking with other majors, and in observing the priorities in my major (environmental studies) I found that class assignments were highly varied depending on the study. For instance, I have a friend who is an English major, and he said that he has not once had to work in groups since he has been to college. I, on the other hand, have had at least one semester-long group project every single semester. Working with others is obviously a priority to my professors, and there is an obvious reason for that. Like you said in you’re introduction to this blog, environmental problems require that people collaborate skills, ideas and solutions for anything to be successfully implemented.

    From my experience, group projects work quite well. Of course, I have had negative experiences where I feel like I am carrying the group, or where none of our schedules match, making it hard to get together. But all in all, I have met some wonderful people, completed some very successful projects, and learned things about myself that I would have never known had I been working alone. People are social animals, working together and group collaboration is important to all of us.

    When asked to give my advice about group dynamics, I think mostly about the radio clip we listened to in preparation for this blog. When listening to it, I found my mind wandering to group projects that I have been involved with, and I could literally pick out examples of when myself, or others in the group, responded to a ‘bad apple’ by picking up on the same behaviors. I can specifically remember a time when I had a small, in-class activity to complete with 4 other classmates. One of my friends was in the group, and he was quite the slacker, always has been. Unfortunately, when I was put into a group with him, I found myself acting like I didn’t care either. Why I did this, I can’t explain. But after listening to this radio clip, I can assure others and myself that I will be much more aware of negative group behavior happening around me, and be sure to not mimic that attitude. By feeding off of ones person negative attitude, I would bring the entire group down, which simply isn’t worth it. The message that I took home from that radio clip is 1) not to be the bad apple, always be aware my attitude and how it effects others, and 2) always be on the look-out for a bad apple in the group, and make a conscious effort not to mimic their behavior.

    Another very important message and word of advice is that of ‘open-mindedness.’ This term can mean different things to different people, but I particularly enjoyed the definition given by Professor Hughes in this weeks reading. Open-mindedness is not only listening to what other people say, or recognizing the fact that there are different opinions. It is more about letting go of what you have to say, and realizing that your truth may not be the only, or the real truth. This idea can be related back to the beginning of this course, when we read an article by Donella Meadows. She said that transcending your paradigm is the most effective leverage point in which to change a system. Here, I am saying that transcending your paradigm is the most effective way to understand other group members and the ideas that they share. When you are being open-minded, remember that it doesn’t just involve listening to what others have to say, it involves realizing that they are coming from a different place than you, and their paradigm or world view is just as correct as your own.

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