The good

6 April 2004

It’s been a long weekend, and I’m only just catching up on everything.

The marking of the first assignment consumed a lot of time. As I said in class, a good essay takes a lot less time to mark (say 10–15 minutes) when compared to a poor essay (30–45 minutes). I think a lot of the difference has to do with how much easier it is to read a good essay. Well structured prose, clear logic, engaging writing–it makes it a pleasurable task rather than a chore. Generally, a good essay only needs to be read once.

On the other hand, with a poor essay, it’s not unusual to go backwards and forwards; re-reading the same paragraph to make sense of it, going between pages because the logic seems contradict earlier statements. And often, the writing doesn’t engage me–it doesn’t make me want to know more. But of course, that sort of thing, in some ways, goes beyond the basics of does the student know “X”. But, is in-line with the courses learning outcomes.

But, of course, it takes a lot of practice to write well. I do wonder if the restructuring of the degree programs here to mandate General Education courses will result in Commerce students being able to write better.

Kim Maree has kindly allowed me to circulate her essay here. Any mistakes of grammar, spelling, etcetera, are probably mine as I have transferred it from Mico$oft Word to HTM.

I like this essay, because even though she flouts some conventions, she has enough skill to make it work. Well done Kim.

Team Performance Reflection

This piece of writing explores the connections between how our company began to create strategies for playing the Mikes Bikes simulation with a game called Mornington Crescent and theories relating to uncertainty and map making.

I like the game Mornington Crescent and would like to play. Paddington. The game is initially deceptive. I believed Peter when he said that the rules were complex. Dahl confirmed this when he said “Bishop’s rules”. It didn’t occur to me that there were no rules. The game itself isn’t very clever. The clever bit is how it represents the randomness of mapping a feasible strategy. It reveals the contrived nature of reason. Being a geography student I like maps, particularly the knowledge that the only truly accurate map is one that is life size and includes me writing in here as well as someone drawing the map, which is of course an impossibility. All maps are merely representations but we usually know how to connect them to what they represent. That isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Smircich and Stubbart (1985) remind us that there is by no means agreement on what is being represented reality can be perceived as objective, subjective or enacted, so in fact what a map represents can be even more abstract than the map itself.

Knightsbridge

How does this relate to our group? Our stab in the dark at trying to create a strategy was our initial map-making activity. Or was it? Before we could begin to talk about strategy we had to firstly meet and chat awhile, getting to know each other. It was at this point that we started to uncover and construct our group’s map by uncovering what was already there, our backgrounds and personalities. Michael McCaskey says that “each of us has unique maps that have grown out of our experiences and needs” (de Witt & Myer 1998) so when we meet new people our worlds converge and we add them to our map. Some of each person’s map is then incorporated into a group’s mega-map, but the story doesn’t end there.

We need to understand that a map is a “revisable model” (1998) constantly being updated and upgraded. If a map isn’t frequently reviewed, in McCaskey’s words it can become “rigid and confining” akin to a prison.

North Greenwich

To the uninitiated, Mornington Crescent is what McCaskey describes as an ambiguous situation. He says that “one way of defining an ambiguous situation is to say it is one in which none of your maps works well. Events are puzzling, confusing, and don’t fit with what you know” (1988). Mornington Crescent is ambiguous because it initially defies the expectation a novice has that there are a set of “rigid and confining” rules, operating like the rules of a game like chess or monopoly. Awareness of this ambiguity can trigger us into what Weick calls a “cosmology episode”. He explains that “basically a cosmology episode happens when people suddenly feel that the universe is no longer a rational, orderly system.” When people are faced with this kind of disorder, they try to place order upon it in an attempt to integrate it into their existing map, demonstrating what McCaskey describes when he says that “we invent theories, rituals, or superstitions to make what was uncertain and confused into something clear and stable” (de Witt & Myer, 1998).

I have already said that it didn’t occur to me that there were no rules in Mornington Crescent. That is, there are no overt rules. But after looking at a few related websites and dwelling on the game for far too long, covert rules have appeared.

In The Ethics Of Constructive MC an experienced player states that “If you win a game that’s just started getting exciting, you end it, which is no use to anyone. Do that and you’ll elicit some biting comments from the other players. Do it regularly and you’ll have the more active members of CAMRE (Campaign For Real Crescent) demanding you banned. And we’d rather avoid the fuss, thankyouverymuch.” (Mornington Crescent Fan, 1996). If you don’t play the game by these “rules”, other players may be dismayed at your haste to win and judge you negatively for your impatience. What has developed in the place of overt rules is a more subtle game etiquette embodying an initiation into a form of ritualistic behaviour.

Old Street

We took our time developing our initial strategy. We knew we wanted to dominate one market, but we didn’t know which one. Our Human Resources Manager helped us out. He’s played the game before so has more game-related knowledge than the rest of us. He knows the potential size of all the markets as well as the technical and design specifications for each market. We looked at his information and were able to be a bit less in the dark. In stage two geography it was suggested that paper maps were more powerful than guns for bringing about colonial conquest and imperialism. Our HR provided us with his map and we then used that map to create our own map. Has he conquered us? Will we then plan to conquer someone else?

Marble Arch

Our HR dominated our first rollover. I’ve already talked about this in a weekly reflection so don’t want to double up. He has the map and compass, we are crawling along behind. I don’t want to wrestle the map off him, there’s no point.

I’m quite happy for him to guide us through the early stages of the game. It takes the pressure off me. I have a lot on my plate at present, university courses, music performances, kids, legal battles, family matters, etc. Why should I get uptight about someone who makes my life easier? His knowledge takes me off the hook in relation to needing to know every corner of the game. I’m very much a big-picture person. If he wasn’t so clued up I’d be getting even less sleep. Why am I going to stress because he dominated the game and knows what he’s talking about? Sometimes I think I should be stressed because a CE is meant to be “in charge”. The Black Book (2004) says the CE will “provide oversight of functional areas, coordinating decision feedback and linking it to company performance.” I have been doing this, but our HR has been at the forefront of it. But that’s ok, in this situation I see myself more as a facilitator because this game isn’t my “baby”, it’s not my project, it doesn’t have to go my way. Which gets me thinking, perhaps we shouldn’t have revealed our strategy yet, perhaps we could have created a mock strategy and acted really lame in order for the other groups to think we don’t know what we are doing, then when the real thing comes along totally knock their socks off. From our lecture this week I now know that this is a well known strategy, called a ploy.

Earl’s Court

I played chess with a 10yr old recently. I haven’t played for ages. He thrashed me in the first game. But in the second one, he made one silly move and I instantly checkmated him. He didn’t ask for another game. This was within about ten moves of the game beginning when hardly any pieces had been taken off the board. I’m more strategic and competitive than I thought. Finally, after raising children and all that, I’ve realised that I like chess and I love winning, which brings me back to Mornington Crescent. Further to the advice cited above, the experienced player declared that “there’s more to being a good Mornington Crescent player than merely winning.” More than winning? He goes on to say that “Mornington Crescent, when played well, is a beautiful thing. It’s stylish, it’s literary, it can amuse, it can sadden, it’s like a symphony, an Old Master… I’m getting carried away. But you see my point.” (Mornington Crescent Fan, 1996).

The point being made is that the game is an art as well as a science– what matters is the journey, not the destination. Could this game be presenting a model for a new business paradigm? In these turbulent times could the corporate world be ready to move towards this kind of mind shift? Imagine a world (John Lennon time) where people deliberated over being in the moment rather than rushing headlong towards a bulls eye target elucidated during a frenzied goal-setting brainstorm.

Angel

Second rollover. Our HR wasn’t as dominant as last time. Thinking over the situation it occurred to me that we all have our roles, or rather the roles we think we are taking on. We wear these roles like costumes because they come from outside ourselves. Beneath that are the roles we inherently inhabit. To the naked eye, our HR is our HR. But beneath this clothing, when we play Mikes Bikes, he’s the CE, or (more plausibly) a co-CEO. Surprisingly, this doesn’t bother me. My “dressing up” role is that of a CE. That’s what everyone sees me as–but when we play Mikes Bikes I feel like some sort of HR, encouraging everyone to contribute.

Another way of looking at this is similar to the idea of overt and covert rules in Mornington Crescent. We have the overt ‘outer’ roles and undeclared, covert ‘shadow’ roles. The outer roles are the roles we think we’re taking on but the shadow roles are the ones that matter most because that’s what we’re really doing.

Surrey Quays

Our team has one process-focussed meeting time each week when we talk about how we are and how we think the group is going. During these meetings I’m the CE. I asserted my authority by letting the group know that I like to strive for good grades and that I have spent lots of time in process groups. I did a bit of impression management. Another way of looking at the reason my role is a bit different during task-time and group process-time is because, as Weick says, “there is no one best map” sensemaking lends itself to multiple, conflicting interpretations, all of which are plausible” (cited in Coutu, 2003).

In management, despite what people like to think, there’s no “one best way”. As a CE I have to be adaptable and aware that we are all reading from different maps that overlap in places. I could have forced our HR into submission but that wouldn’t have been the best thing for the group, in fact it probably would have been very destructive. Our HR is likable and enthusiastic and it would have appeared unreasonable for me to hold him back. You could say this is impression management because I don’t want to appear overly controlling, but equally you could say that I’m letting go of my need to control in favour of considering what is best for the group overall.

Queen’s Park

Despite his dominance during our decision making meetings, our HR is open to trying new ideas. He makes it clear if he hadn’t already thought of a particular strategy, and says “we’ll try it offline, roll forward, roll back, ok?” So we do. When decisions he doesn’t think will work actually do, he’s open about it. He likes our team winning more than the need to be right. The ability to put the best thing for the team before an individual’s ego is important. Our HR is able to modify his own map of the game to accommodate the team attaining its goals. Katzenbach and Smith show that the advantage of a high performing team over a working group is that the team is able to produce a “collective work product” (1992). What this means is that the team is greater than the sum of all its parts. The reaction of our HR when he is shown something he didn’t already know guides the way for our team to generate this collective work product.

Pudding Mill Lane

It is interesting to consider Paul Baard’s comments on the scenario outlined by Wetlaufer in “The team that wasn’t” (2000) at this point. Baard states that a Randy, a difficult team member, is managing to negatively influence the whole team because of “psychological fusion”. Baard says that “fusion occurs when we fail to differentiate ourselves emotionally from the opinions and conduct of others”. He goes on the say that when people participate in fusion, they “allow other people to make us feel either good or bad”. When applying these ideas to maps, fusion is when someone disregards another person’s map and imposes their own one upon the scenario. Our HR’s good natured approach and his willingness to explore and acknowledge other people’s ideas mean that he hasn’t “fused” with anyone in the group. His influence hasn’t been destructive but constructive because his enthusiasm and knowledge have encouraged the rest of the team to “pick up their game” in order to match his ability in their decision making areas. Mornington Crescent. This has been an exploration of the relationship between a game with no rules, our team’s emerging strategies and theories regarding map making during times of uncertainty. If Peter is reading this, he’s rushed straight to the destination rather than enjoying the journey and the surprise of finally arriving at Mornington Crescent.

References

Coutu, D. (2003). Sense and reliability. Harvard Business Review, 81(4), 84–91.

Katzenbach, J., & Smith, D. (1992). Why teams matter. McKinsey Quarterly, 3, 3–27.

Kolb, D., & Smith, P. (2004). The black book: Course outline MGMT 301: Management theory and practice. Auckland, University of Auckland Business School.

McCaskey, M. (1998). Conceptual mapping. Strategy–Process, content, context: An international perspective. Wit Bob de and Meyer R. London; Boston, International Thomson Business Press.

Mornington Crescent Fan (1996). The Ethics of Constructive M. 2004. Retrieved from www at http://madeira.physiol.ucl.ac.uk/delphi/interactive/mcg/play.html

Smircich, L., & Stubbart, C. (1985). Strategic management in an enacted world. Academy of Management Review, 10(4), 724–735.

Wetlaufer, S. (2000). The team that wasn’t. Harvard Business Review, November-December, 22–38.