Team work over time

I had written a note to myself to write about the idea of decision making over time – specifically jotting down “What happens when the team that seemed functional till now, suddenly devolves into a morass?”. This little note marinated for over a month till I discovered it, neatly tucked away in the drafts section of wordpress.

This thought was triggered during a class on decision making taught by Jeremy Alexis. At the Institute of Design, there’s a lot of emphasis on teamwork and rightly so. Working together in three to four teams during a semester represents a challenge all in itself and while it can be frustrating at times, I consider it practice for the future. One aspect of team work that I found interesting was the idea of having guiding rules and key words which would allow the group to forge ahead, even when all members might not agree on a specific point.

These rules are usually agreed upon at the start and hopefully relied upon throughout the course of group work. This might be true in some cases but in my experience, when team members are acquaintances, these guidelines are rarely stated and agreed upon. Instead, the group members assumed implicitly that everyone is on the same page and respects the same rules. This assumption can lead to surprising conflict much later in the project when you realize that the members have very different expectations from the project than you do, and behave therefore very differently.

So what do you do when you find that an otherwise functioning group is suddenly breaking down? My experience has been varied. With groups where there’s mutual trust and friendship, it’s been immensely helpful to “clear the air” – that is to sit down and state explicitly, each member’s expectations which makes it far easier to isolate a point of contention. In other groups, it has worked less effectively,

So how do you all cope when groups you are in, suddenly don’t work well anymore?

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