May 03, 2012

Final Entry on An introduction to skills development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio

Original Action Points:

  1. To commit myself to completing the further workshops and applying what I learn to my everyday life.
  2. To apply the skills and techniques highlighted in situations outside my comfort zone and become more flexible and adaptable.
  3. To improve my self reflection by listening to feeback from others and use of structured self assessment.


On reflection, after an extremely busy second term, I still managed to commit myself to further workshops such as 'an Introduction to Academic Writing at Masters Level', 'Leading a Group Project' and most recently the Warwick Leadership scheme. The majority of workshops I found consolidated my knowledge and learning so far, such as the structure and presentation of writing highlighted in the 'Introduction to Academic Writing at Masters Level' workshop. But I also found some interesting and new ideas such as the Belbin theory and Myers-Briggs type indicators from the 'Working in a Team' and 'Leadership' program. These assessments I found accurately portrayed my preferred roles within a team and the leadership style which suits me best and furthered my understanding the most. Understanding of the different roles it is possible to play in group work helped me to identify with different working styles and provide reasons why as a co-ordinator, teamworker and resource investigator I might clash with strong shapers that provide drive and are not afraid to tread on people's toes doing so.

In terms of applying the skills and techniques highlighted in this workshop, I have continued to put my academic learning into context with the bigger picture, always relating the theory, for example recombinant DNA technology, to its purpose on industrial and even global scales. This has helped to prevent me from becoming disengaged from the relevance of learning such detail and something I have also added to help conclude my work as suggested in the 'Introduction to Academic Writing at Masters Level' workshop. In terms of becoming more flexible and adaptable, the knowledge gained from understanding the different preferred working styles has helped me to become more spontaneous and open to working in more flexible ways to encourage better working environments, especially with group members that prefer less structure (but still get the work done). I have also tried to pursue workshops and activities such as the Leadership scheme in order to demonstrate the application of skills employers value to benefit my future ambitions and relate the purpose of these workshops to my overall self development.

Finally, reflection on my feedback has also continued to improve my academics, especially in presentations where my feedback now comments on the fluent and clear presentation of material. I feel I have addressed the initial action points I set myself and I have been successful, however, if I were to do this again, I would keep up with more regular blogging, as this helps to provide valuable reflection. Nonetheless, I hope to continue to apply the principals learned, as I have done so far. And in my final term at Warwick, with a little bit more time on my hands, I now plan to finish the reflection and blogging required for the remaining workshops and complete the Warwick Skills Portfolio Award.

 


April 13, 2012

Follow up on Leading a Group Project

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on with my action points

1. Remember that leadership styles operate on a continuum and recognise when and where the most appropriate style is applicable and adapt accordingly.

Having joined the leadership scheme I have further developed this understanding, becoming aware of what style best suits me and practised adapting my leadership style in role play situations, for instance, getting the most out of even the most quiet. During my academic group work I have also worked in a large variety of groups with many different skill sets and as a result have had the opportunity to learn which style is most appropriate. When there are strong characters in the group who like to actively contribute to discussion and the direction of work, I find it best to adopt more of a co-ordinator style of leadership. Then, when the group is less willing to contribute openly, a more autocratic, but fair delegation of work helps to keep the whole group engaged and involved.

2. Remember to get to know group members or at least their preferred roles, experience or skill sets.

Having worked with and got to know the majority of the class by now, it becomes easy to overlook the importance of this step. Nonetheless, it is still important to understand each others strengths and weaknesses and often the preferred roles and skill sets are volunteered at the start of such group forming stages, making the delegation of work easier and more efficient. 

3. Familiarise and understand the task before delegating and setting ground rules which must be achievable and realistic.

This is again another important stage of group work, which when subject to time constraints can become neglected. Despite this, throughout my academic group work so far, I have made the conscious effort to set aside an evening or so before the group begins work so everyone has the chance to familiarise themselves with the tasks set. This has helped to improve understanding and work efficiency and is therefore something I will try to maintain. It is also important to note that it is never too late to take a step back and evaluate the progress or relevance of the work generated, as this is where problems can be resolved instead of ignored. In terms of ground rules, the most productive has been that everyone attends each group meeting. Where the work delegated can be completed and then the individual contributions pulled together as a group, to ensure full and visual participation. 


Follow up on an Introduction to Academic Writing at Masters Level

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on with my action points

1. I will remember to remain passive in my writing style to display an evaluative and critical approach to my arguments in essays.

Although at Masters level we are asked to present our own original analysis and interpretation of the information we present it is still important to remain passive. Therefore, through a conscious effort to do so I believe this has helped to improve the quality of my work and writing style as reflected in my feedback, such as 'a mature and comprehensive review.' 

2. I will include more precise, articulate language and avoid vague, broad vocabulary such as 'interesting' and 'good' to maintain an accurate and concise academic style.

This is particularly important to me as I often have tight word limits in which I have to provide a detailed discussion sometimes on a broad topic, whilst avoiding being too superficial. Through using articulate language and precise vocabulary this has helped to keep my word counts down whilst still effectively presenting my arguments, or critically commenting on scientific findings where the phrase 'good' would be too vague. Therefore, I will continue to make a conscious effort to apply this to my work.

3. I will try to critically re-read and revise work if necessary and include a wider perspective or purpose for the work in my conclusions.

To get around time restraints which may prevent me from fully re-reading and revising my work after I have finished an initial draft, I try to incorporate this into my work as I progress. Re-reading and revising paragraphs as the essay builds helps to keep each paragraph relevant and also means I have read through the entire essay several times to ensure it flows and the reader can follow easily. Including a final wider perspective or purpose to my conclusions was also an important point I found really useful when finishing essays, as it gives me the opportunity to summarise my own opinions, providing further evidence of the originality and understanding needed, as well as reiterate the arguments presented.  

March 12, 2012

Follow–up on Leadership

Session 3.

Workshop Tutor: Mary Sage

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on

This meeting was split into two halves, firstly a couple of role play exercises, followed by two talks from people involved in industry and entrepreneurial leadership. To begin with, we split ourselves according to preference into two groups to perform role plays aimed at getting the most out of everyone in a group (especially the most quiet) and negotiation of deadlines to resolve conflicts. In order to follow up on one of my action points posted in my previous blogs, I joined the role play exercise to get the most out of everyone in a group. At random, we picked positions within the role play - either as group leader, group member or observer - which came with a description of what to act out in the exercise. As group leader, I had to conduct a meeting between a group of Warwick students, new to each other, and tasked with a small fund-raising project. From the description it was clear that although the team is keen and committed, the majority of members will be very quiet, one in particular will be most quiet and another will be outspoken and eager to contribute, sometimes dominating the discussion. As team leader it was my responsibility to try to get more equal involvement from everyone without coming across as too 'authoritarian' in coming to decisions or having undue influence in the final decision.

In just 10 minutes I think the overall role play was a success. To begin with, we introduced ourselves as part of an ice breaker, important in the forming of new groups. In order to encourage full participation from the less vocal members I then suggested that everyone spend a minute writing down every fund raising idea they could come up with on a piece of paper in front of them and then we would go round each member in turn so they could pitch their ideas. This is an important tool which can be used to encourage contribution from those less comfortable speaking, as well as control members who may be more vocal in discussions. Whilst listening to the contributions from each member which I engaged directly in turn, I tried to provide encouraging feedback in order to maintain and comfortable and supportive environment. I then put the ideas raised to a vote in order to democratically decide which to take forward, whilst also being able to gauge the enthusiasm and commitment within the group. Via these methods, the discussions continued, the group warmed to each other and contributions became more open. I then closed the exercise with a summary of what we had discussed and decided on, which happened to be some cake sales and a fancy dress club night in Leamington.

I felt comfortable in my position as team leader and found myself interacting as I would naturally in such an exercise. On the other hand, other members found in particularly hard to play a quiet, introverted person or even an outspoken, very vocal person, as this goes against their nature. For example, I was expecting to have to control a very outspoken person in order to let the other members feel comfortable to speak but this turned out not to be the case. Comments from the observer of the group were also positive, mentioning good use of voting and engaging group members directly in order to encourage the articulation of the ideas they had put to paper in front of them.

The main points I gained from discussion with the other group exercise involving deadlines was the importance of negotiation and balancing opinion to find a middle ground the satisfies the majority. Such negotiations and re-evaluations can occur at any point, even later into the project and it is important that those members meeting deadlines are recognised and those that fail are accountable in order to encourage ownership of tasks and not undermine the efforts of those more organised.

Following from this, we were then given the opportunity to listen to the experience and advice from two speakers involved in leadership. The first was a young multichannel manager from Boots the pharmacist, who described his first experiences of leadership when quite literally being thrown into the deep end and expected to manage a store of more than 30 employees. The main points I took from this talk, were the well structured nature of management and the guidelines provided. The importance of understanding the roles of the people you manage. As well as the importance of:

  • "listening"
  • "managing expectations"

Whilst striving to achieve targets under certain deadlines, it is important to be aware of what is manageable and how this can be achieved inside or outside of company policy and to make those in positions above you aware of this.

The second speaker was a much older, inspiring and successful entrepreneur, who had set up his own multinational fishing magazine publication from the loft conversion of his house. This was his second business, the first of which he sold for 1/10th of its value in order to purse what made him happy.

  • "be happy!"
  • "focus"

These were the two main points for success I took away from this talk, among others. In terms of leadership he explained how he disagreed with "throwing people into the deep end" as this encourages failure and reiterated the fact that in positions of leadership you will have to give people a "bollocking" from time to time. Authority and mutual respect are essential to successfully managing people. Especially if you don't like the other person, because they will no doubt have the skills that compliment your own. To summarise:

  • know yourself
  • become the people that inspire you

These are the main points I took from this session and hope to implement to my future career.

As part of my studies and role as a PGSSLC, being proactive and engaging has proved successful. Students have been comfortable to come forward with issues and even simple tasks like getting the work room printers fixed (especially on deadline days) will hopefully encouraged confidence among the others in our roles as student representatives.


March 04, 2012

Follow–up on Leadership

Session 2.

Workshop Tutor: Mary Sage

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on

In the last session we looked at the intercultural dynamics and possible conflicts involved in leading teams. In today's society, we're often asked to work with individuals from all kinds of working backgrounds, which results in the clashes of working style discussed in the previous blog. But an even more interculturally connected society can lead to clashes in cultural values.

We began the session with an ice breaker, introducing ourselves and the origin of our names and what they mean. Then moved into groups of 3 and 4 to play a simple card game. After we had read and understood the rules we were given, we were asked not to talk and only communicate via gesture and writing. The winner and loser from each table then moved clockwise and anticlockwise around the room respectively from each table until everyone had a chance to play with everyone else. The lack of verbal communication soon became an obvious frustration when it became clear that there was definitely confusion among the different tables about the rules.

After we finished, it was then explained to us that there were deliberate differences in the rules and because of this we could draw out parallels to real life experiences where cultural differences lead to similar confusion and frustration. Examples included moving to a new country where you don't speak the language well, differences in relationships and differences in local traditions - especially concerning meal times and what is accepted as etiquette and being polite. From this, we then discussed how these differences were usually resolved. In terms of the game we played, usually the majority decision was applied, so this involved finding a common understanding through our gestures. Much the same as what would be expected when communicating on a level that gets around any language barrier. This also raises the idea of tolerance and understanding. In a democratic leadership, the majority opinion should be taken forward even if this goes against your initial opinion.

From the workshop exercise and discussions that followed, the main take home points for me were the importance of establishing a common ground between the members in a group you lead. Despite differences in cultural and working style a middle ground can always be negotiated in order to clarify goals and establish what is expected from everyone which is often the reason for most tension in a group.

As part of my studies, role as a PGSSLC and personal experiences I will continue to communicate effectively and be specific and clear in instructions. In particular, I will try to be more proactive, engaging more on the facebook group and in class to promote discussion of problems experienced on the course which I can then forward to tutors. So far, conversations on the facebook page have prompted further discussions, even to the point where students are now confident enough to have written their own letters of concern to be forwarded through us as representatives. My academic group work remains successful, although I would probably benefit from learning techniques that will help push for the most out of the least active members. For example, better delegation of work and encouragement of personal accountability through the establishment of clear ground rules. Nonetheless, I look forward to the next session.


February 20, 2012

Follow–up on Leadership

Workshop Tutor: Mary Sage

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on with my action points

  1. I would like to learn effective techniques to get the most out of even the most quiet people.

    Having attended the leading a group project workshop we were introduced to the use of 'post-it notes' as a tool of communicating ideas in order to remove the disadvantage to those less confident in speaking. This was a useful insight into engaging everyone in a group on the same level and something that can be applied to my academic group work. I would like to learn of any further techniques like this in the following leadership meetings, to continue to get the most out of everyone in a group. Plus, the effectiveness of communication in writing was also illustrated in my role as a PGSSLC, as a letter which we submitted detailing the major course concern of assessment feedback resulted in the immediate improvement in student tutor communications relating to this, via email.


  2. I would like to implement the understanding of my preferred leadership style and Belbin roles to my continued academic group projects.

    After first being introduced to the Belbin roles in the working in a team workshop I have continued to keep this in mind when engaging in academic group work. I am very much a co-ordinator and like to keep an eye on the big picture of the task we are completing whilst also trying to provide the characteristics of a monitor evaluator which I have found so far, is usually the most neglected role. After reading week, I'm now moving into my next module and hope to carry this understanding into my next group assignment. I would also like to learn the best way, or techniques to encourage those driven by last minute deadlines to complete work sooner in the following leadership meetings.


  3. To further my understanding and empathy with others I will try to spend more time with individuals with course concerns.

    As well as spending more time talking to students with course concerns I will also try to be more active on the course facebook pages in order to encourage more discussion. To illustrate that we listen and address the students concerns we also post the minutes from our meetings and we have been surprised that students do indeed take the time to read and comment on these. This has been encouraging and to further my understanding of leadership I have been reading through the "explore and develop your leadership potential" booklet we were provided at the end of the last session.



February 16, 2012

Follow up on Working in a Team

Here's a summary of how I'm getting on with my action points

1. Try not to avoid my least preferred roles ('implementer' and 'specialist') and improve on them by working closely with these kinds of team members, in order to learn from them and make these roles more manageable.

As previously discussed, it may not be as important to improve on my least preferred roles, but I have many manageable roles which I could 'flex' into, in order to get the most out of a team environment.

2. Continue to emphasis my strengths in team work by co-ordinating, promoting discussion and exploring multiple opportunities.

To demonstrate my preferred roles and maximise the opportunities here at Warwick I have also joined the Warwick Leadership scheme where I hope to further understand my leadership style and apply this to my group work during studies, future employment and role as a PGSSLC member.

3. Understand that I will not get on with everyone or understand their methods but accept these so called 'allowable weaknesses' in order for the team to be happy and productive.

So far, this understanding has been beneficial to my studies as I'm involved in a lot of group work activities. I believe it has also been valuable in diffusing conflict and tension, nonetheless, sometimes members of the group have had to be pushed in order to maximise productivity.


Follow up on Developing Your Critical Thinking at Masters Level

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on with my action points

1. To increase the amount of material I read whilst balancing my time by using the filtering techniques described.

Whilst the structure of my course so far involves two week modules which are particularly lecture intensive, the majority of extended reading is done as research towards the essay assignment. As we move towards the end of core modules, I now have to think more in detail about my final project. This has led to an increase in the material I'm reading, and the filtering techniques described has helped to increase my productivity.

2. To not take data for granted as fact and try to critically engage with it, always ask why?

Time constraints often make this question hard to ask from every piece of information I engage with and as a result I try to stick to peer reviewed documents which are already cross referenced for validity. This will definitely become more important as I begin research towards my final dissertation project.

3. To remember that there is always more than one side to any argument and this continuum is important to understand and can be applied to strengthen the position of my own arguments in work and life.

This was most relevant to a recent submission where we were asked to argue if "Gene Therapy had come of age?" Throughout I tried to demonstrate that enthusiasm for such research will inevitability come from the scientific community and opposition will come from investors losing money where no apparent commercial returns have been established. I hope to continue to apply this understanding to my future work including my project dissertation.

 


Follow up on Effective Seminar Participation

Here's a summary of how I've been getting on with my action points

1. To remember not to allow my body to move too much when delivering presentations i.e. to stop myself from swaying as this can communicate insecurity.

The start of this term has been very busy, involving many seminar presentations, the majority of which have been a group effort. Nonetheless, my confidence in conducting myself during presentations has increased and I have found myself making less of a conscious effort to stop myself from swaying. I believe this has been reflected in the feedback I have received which explains I demonstrate a confident presentation of material.

2. To be definite in my presentation of information and questioning. Not be back down to interruption or question my right to speak.

Again the feedback from my presentations have been positive. Sometimes questioning during the presentation is encouraged and I believe I have handled this appropriately and swiftly so as not to distract from the material I'm presenting. On the other hand, I believe I could still improve my contribution to questions and discussions at the end of presentations even if to confirm my understanding as I know this can be of benefit to others as well.

3. To end clearly and present alternatives to the cliche 'are there any questions?' For example, 'I'm sure you have plenty you would like to contribute and I would be happy to hear this now.'

At the end of my presentations I have continued to make an effort to end clearly, and this point was also recently raised by a tutor in our general feedback. He explained the importance of "standing up, speaking up and then shutting up." Stressing the importance of a clear finish to a presentation to remain professional.


February 05, 2012

First entry on Leadership

Workshop Tutor: Mary Sage

Introduction

Studying for an MSc in Biotechnology, Bioprocessing and Business Management at Warwick's Life Sciences department, I decided I needed to demonstrate application of the skills employers value. This is the reason I decided to participate in the Warwick skills portfolio award and naturally the Leadership scheme as another opportunity to make the most out of my time here at Warwick University. I decided I wanted to take part to further develop and demonstrate my leadership skills in order to participate more effectively in my role as a PGSSLC and benefit my applications to managerial positions in the healthcare industry.

As an elected member of the PGSSLC representing the views of the students on my postgraduate course, it is my responsibility along with two other students to encourage our class mates to bring forward issues about the course that concern them and then forward these to the relevant staff in order to resolve them. As a group of students we take turns to chair the discussion and record minutes from the meetings. Therefore, I hope from attending this scheme I will not only understand what type of leadership style suits me, but approaches to get the most out of the people I represent.

From the first session I further developed my understanding of my preferred roles according to the Belbin self-perception profile and the importance of balancing the types of roles within a team. Furthermore, the results from the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) and dimensions we answered during the session highlighted a slight difference between my (ENFJ) Extraverted Feeling with Introverted Intuition and (ESTJ) Extraverted Thinking with Introverted Sensing.

ENFJ preferences are highly attuned to others, using empathy to quickly understand emotional needs, motivations and concerns. Their focus is supporting others and encouraging their growth. They are considered friendly persuaders who often act as catalysts, including everyone and drawing out the best in other people.

ESTJ preferences like to organise projects, procedures and people, then act to get things done. They live by a set of clear standards and expect the same of others. Therefore enjoying interaction and working with others as long as the others are responsible about meeting deadlines and completing assigned tasks.

Comparing the two, although I would prefer to complete a task step by step, building towards the deadline and maybe finishing with time to spare I understand that others operate differently and believe I have developed to accommodate different approaches to work effort. Considering this, I think ENFJ preferences are my most suited leadership style.

As a leader I would like to be:

Understanding and show empathy to others. Take the time to get to know people in order to draw the best out of them. Be inspiring, warm and strong minded and decisive when needed. Basing decisions on principles, system, overall impacts and rational assessment of outcomes. Plus, strive for harmony and a supportive environment where followers know I respect their values.


Actions

  1. I would like to learn effective techniques to get the most out of even the most quiet people. For example, to draw out opinions from our class mates concerning the course we have set up facebook pages where people can post issues from the comfort of their own home. However, this is still not entirely anonymous - therefore we could implement a feedback or petition which members of the class could sign if they agree with the issue.

  2. I would like to implement the understanding of my preferred leadership style and Belbin roles to my continued academic group projects. Although often these assignments are too short to consider effective group work in great detail I will try to asses the contribution of others and understand which approaches will get the most out of each other.

  3. In order to further my understanding and empathy with others I will also try to spend more time with individuals with course concerns to improve their confidence in bringing issues forward and illustrate that they will be listened to and addressed.

To write a follow up, go to http://go.warwick.ac.uk/skills/leadership/blog


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