Team Dynamics – Emergence of Leaders

I teach ‘Organisational Theory Design and Development’ in a prestigious institution of Management. This is an elective paper for the 2nd year MBA, HR specialisation students.

On the first day, we did the usual ice-breaking session, why HR questions etc. I also spoke to them about the importance of ‘imagination and ability to work in teams’ as the fundamental skills of human beings and it would remain so and will define our survival and dominance in the era of artificial intelligence etc. I also emphasised the importance of ‘volunteering’ and ‘initiating’ as they would define ‘leadership’. I felt I had their attention.

We went for the real crux of the issue. I told them that the course will take the form of a workshop and so we need to divide them into groups. The class is an enthusiastic and alert group. Two of them volunteered immediately. I did a little bit of additional talk on the importance of volunteering and two more came forward. Four of them came front and stood facing the others. They volunteered without knowing what they are getting into. Sort of conquering the fear of the unknown.

I told them to pick a teammate from the class. She was a little hesitant but picked her friend. Same way, the others also picked their first partner. Now, they were asked to pick their second team member in consultation with their partner. They followed instructions diligently and the fourth member was added in consultation between the other three and so on. The teams were divided and were asked to sit together as a cluster.

I asked the following questions to the volunteers:

  1. How did they feel about this process? Was it stressful? Or they felt comfortable?
  2. Which one was more difficult? – selecting the first member in the team or the subsequent ones
  3. How did they go through the selection process?

One girl said, she was comfortable selecting the first person and it became increasingly difficult selecting the others – as she had to consult others and convince them.

Second one said that she was finding it difficult to select the first one and then felt better to select the other members as she had the help of the other members.

The third and fourth ones were fine with the process but they observed that they felt sorry for the students who were not picked in the first or the second rounds as the tension was rising.

On the third question, all of them said that the final decision of selection of all the members was theirs. They had suggestions or recommendations, proposals from the other members, but the decision was made by them. One of them said she left the decision to others, but after they decided, she approved. Finally, it came to the ‘volunteers. The volunteers emerged as leaders and had the authority. I never told them they are leaders, but the members made them leaders.

So, we inferred that it is not someone’s skills or knowledge or smartness etc which made them leaders, but their willingness to volunteer. Their willingness to take that little risk and venture into the world of the unknown. They become leaders and may remain leaders and will have their say and would be considered ‘more competent’!

Then I asked the members, how they felt about the process? Did they feel bad about not volunteering? No one replied, but some faces said that they did regret.

Some of them felt ‘being left out’ when the selection process was on and they were not being picked. (finally, everyone was picked, though). They did feel the pressure. I told them that organisational life is like this. Sometimes I have felt left out and it was sharply painful. I did acknowledge their pain and told them this is life! Perhaps they felt better.

We had their first team presentation and all the teams were well prepared (in the next session). And, I found the volunteer (turned leader) making the introductory speech and allocating responsibilities – playing the ‘leader’ precisely.

During the presentations, all the members of the team stood together facing the whole class. The other students were the audience and they will go to the front next (for presenting). So, there were some last-minute preparations and some whispering between the students for their own presentation. I prompted them to focus, listen and ask questions. This class was quite responsive.

However, one student was constantly talking (whispering) to his ‘leader’. I pointed out to him to stop and start listening. But he was persisting on. I warned him that I will change his seat In the classroom, this was a severe punishment and most of the students do not like it. Normally used in extraordinary situations (what an irony!). He was nearly distracting the attention of the class.

After all the presentations (all of them were very diligent). I told them we need 5 teams instead of 4 and so I need… Before I finished the sentence, a hand went up – to volunteer – to lead. I would have got as many as I wanted now, it looked like.

I asked her to select her first team member. She unhesitatingly selected the ‘boy’ who was distracting! I was amused. After they completed their selection (to select two members each from each of the other groups) they had to move into their own cluster and the boy was very unhappy to move. He complained that I am creating stress and discomfort in every class. I told him that I am glad that he is authentic with his feelings. He was right, my idea was to create stress and discomfort. I shall continue to create more, as it is the way the world operates and it is good for one’s growth. Not sure if he was convinced, but would understand.

I asked her – on what basis she selected the ‘boy’ first? She said, ‘he was getting distracted in his group and had to be moved out. She did not want him particularly in her group but wanted him to get out of his dysfunctional state. She was not just acting as the team leader; she was pitching herself for the leadership of the class!

Prof. Dr. D.J.E. Ravi Thilagan
Prof. Dr. D.J.E. Ravi Thilagan, M.B.A., Ph.D
Crescent School of Business

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