June 21, 2022 | Featured

    Who is on your Team?

    “We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” ~ Brene Brown

    I recently attended and presented at the AIR Forum in Phoenix, AZ. Here I was able to participate in a number of engaging sessions. One theme that resonated with me was the importance (and difficulty) in building cohesive, functional teams. In the context of Institutional Effectiveness—reporting and gathering data is the easy part of our job. Building a team to use the data to inform decision making, takes work.  

    In my session, I presented on how we can empower stakeholders to take action on data findings. Within this, I discussed Kotter’s 8 steps in change leadership, and a book called Dream Teams, by Shane Snow. In his book, Snow describes groups of people that make breakthroughs together. Through his narrative,  Snow describes what happens when we go against the odds and come together to become more than the sum of our parts and how this has created some of the greatest moments in history. To that extent, I want to describe a few examples. Specifically as they relate back to one of Kotter’s 8 steps in leading change… Building Your Guiding Coalition. 

    Kotter describes that in order to lead change, you can’t go about it alone. Building your Guiding Coalition is one of the key first steps in pivoting your institution toward something new. In this vein, here are three items of advice in taking this step:

    1. Recruit members, and simultaneously build relationships with them. 
    2. Schedule and hold regular meetings/engagements in order to sustain the coalition. 
    3. Expect differences to arise in the coalition and embrace these as part of the process. 

    “Not All Speed Is Movement” ~ Toni Cade Bambara

    Please note for the coalition to be productive and inclusive, you need to recruit members from across your institution. This includes individuals from your department, but it also includes members of units that are outside of your realm of usual interface. This step goes far beyond your usual sign up sheet in an Academic Affairs meeting. Sure, that is a fast and easy way to get members for a mailing list, but that speed will not equate to movement of your analytics agenda.  

    In order to find members, you need to begin to build relationships and get to know stakeholders. For this reason, I implore you to engage in some good old qualitative inquiry. Interview them, understand their context, how they use data, and what they need to be successful in using data more effectively. Build a short list of questions and set up a 60 minute meeting. 

    This meeting will provide you with: 

    1. Information on the questions and insights into the data/analysis you had not known before
    2. The beginning of a relationship with someone outside of your unit. 

    Getting to know someone on a personal basis, and learning the context of their work as it relates to analytics is critical. While it may take time, this hour is well worth it. You are showing your potential members that they are valued. We all want to have a voice, and to be heard. As practitioners, we are in a unique position to be able to engage in these conversations around institutional data.

    “The Black Bag in the Back of the Classroom” 

    “A mysterious student has been attending a class at Oregon State University for the past two months enveloped in a big black bag. Only his bare feet show. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 AM the Black Bag sits on a small table near the back of the classroom. The class is Speech 113 – basic persuasion… Charles Goetzinger, professor of the class, knows the identity of the person inside. None of the 20 students in the class do. After an extended time in the classroom, Goetzinger said the students’ attitude changed from hostility toward the Black Bag to curiosity and finally to friendship.“

    As IR professionals, sometimes we are the person in the black bag and sometimes we have people in our meetings who are in that black bag. To that extent, we need to consider Snow’s recommendation about exposure therapy. In order to overcome things that scare us, we need to put ourselves in those situations often. I would implore you to find members who may be in that black bag. I also would encourage you to search for committees and other groups where IR could fit in, join those committees (put yourself in the black bag), attend, and keep attending. Eventually, in both instances, curiosity will likely turn into friendship. Similarly, with your coalition, hold regular meetings so that your members have the opportunity to get to know one another.   

    It is your responsibility as the leader of this coalition to guide them to a place where everyone is comfortable, feels as though it is a safe space to ask questions and, ultimately, to move your initiative forward. 

    “Having a naysayer in the group made the rest of the group think harder”

    As mentioned, invite a diverse group of thinkers to join your coalition. Dr. Charlan Nemeth of UC Berkely studied the science of human influence, most specifically studying minority viewpoints and their influence on others. Typically, what she has found is that when a team comes together to make a decision, the majority opinion wins out. She became interested in the influence of those who disagree, and how they impact the final decision made. To test this, she gave groups a timed challenge to work on a puzzle and determine if there was a hidden figure in the puzzle. Groups of people who all tended to agree that there was no hidden figure were sometimes correct, and sometimes not. But groups that had one or two people who often disagreed with the majority opinion ended up getting more answers right. Regardless of the project, when we are considering how to use data to inform decisions at an institution, we must challenge ourselves to gain insight and input from many perspectives. 

    Nemeth’s experiments reveal that the presence of a minority viewpoint tended to help groups look at issues "on all sides.” Meanwhile, groups that are very similar and have no dissenters tend to look for information “that corroborated the majority view.” We can think of the dissenting view as a provocation, and that provocateurs are people who “force us out of inertia”—they force us out of the inertia that moves us forward to all corroborate the majority view. Our team may be going fast… but may not be moving anywhere. 

    Other researchers who studied fraternity and sororities found that when given twenty minutes to solve a murder mystery, having an outsider join the group led to team members feeling less comfortable, more agitated, and less confident in their answers. This also led to doubling the chance of getting the right answer. Provocateurs may push us off the mountain peak sometimes making things difficult, only to lead us to discover that there is a taller peak just ahead. 

    The big takeaway here is that diverse teams are your dream teams. Assembling these teams and fostering differences of opinion is a good practice that leads to better, more informed and comprehensive decisions. Although it may take longer to get there, the juice is worth the squeeze, placing your institution in a better position to lead change and more clarity on where you going and why.

    Cresswell, John.W., & Poth, Cheryl.N. (2018). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Sage.

    Shane Snow, Dream Teams, Working Together Without Falling Apart (New York: Penguin Press, 2018) 96. 


    Nemeth, C. (2018), in Snow, S. Dream Teams, Working Together Without Falling Apart. Penguin, New York, NY. 

     Shane Snow,  Dream Teams: Why Effective Collaboration Requires 'Diverse Mental Tool Kits

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