Sunday, 4 January 2015

(Now is the) Time for Reflection

People say that defining goals in life is important. I agree but defining, aggregating and putting those goals on a list at a finite moment in time is not necessarily the way for me to go. At least not until I give myself some time for reflection. After all, it seems that there is some scientific evidence supporting that reflection helps self-improvement.

'Tree Reflection' by Doug Wheller
under a CC license
It is amazing how my self-criticism for events and experiences of my recent past often matures as time passes and, while my initial views are rarely overturned, I end-up having personal case-study "packages" that include the event, the reaction (of myself and the others) and its immediate and long term effect. This may sound a bit pompous (and tediously complex) but it really isn't.

I'll give you an example.

The person that tends to point out a project's difficulties and risks is, usually, not too popular in a group. One would think that identifying shortcomings at the early stage would be useful for a project's ultimate success. However, one should also take into account the psychological impact of this activity on the others. In a balanced group of co-workers, where ambitious planners and careful analysts coexist, discussing on potential difficulties works as intended. In poorly populated teams, however, that is not the case. Talking about the risks could discourage the entire group in the same way that, had there been no careful analyst in the team, the group would have been carried away into selecting over-ambitious objectives.

During 2014 I had the chance to find myself into several different groups and had the opportunity to see the effect of interventions of group members and me at the various stages of different projects. The "carry-home" messages I ended up with are:
  • In group work, it's always good to talk about potential problems at an early stage, ideally, when a project is being planned. At later stages, it is still necessary but a group talk may not be the best way to do it. Discussing with the group leader may be better. Openly highlighting risks when the work is in progress can contribute to a toxic environment, especially when the project is behind schedule and the team has not been properly formulated. Toxic environments are not good. Not good at all!
  • If the one talking about potential risks receives no feedback or constructive criticism or no discussion on mitigation measures takes place, that is an indication that the group cannot properly process the information. One should then try to guide the group into addressing the issues raised. Sometimes the latter is more productive to be discussed bilaterally with the group leader.
  • One-sided discussion on a project's risks and difficulties need to be balanced by documented optimism. If there is none to present the latter then it would be of great value if the same person would think on and present both sides. It is not always easy, though.
  • Collective memory is important in work groups, too. Team members should be given the chance to reflect, even informally. It helps learning and, besides that, helps identify group dysfunctions or tensions that may need to be resolved.
  • Never ignore the emotional impact that words and actions have on people. Or, in other words, constructive criticism works constructively when spoken in a polite and encouraging way.
None of the points above is really rocket science. To the contrary, most are common-sense really. However, experiencing them and then reflecting on them is what really adds to the individual 's skills.

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