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Human Relations in Organizations: Collaborative Writing by Beginners

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Human Relations in Organizations: Collaborative Writing by Beginners

  1. 1. 29 HUMAN RELATIONS IN ORGANIZATIONS: COLLABORATIVE WRITING BY BEGINNERS Taggart Smith Purdue University In an effortto make a collaborative writingassignment more &dquo;real world&dquo; and practical, I tried an organizational analysis paper as a major writing assignment in my semester-long classes. The results were good: my stu- dents felt they learned something useful, and the papers written were presentable as feedback to the organizations studied. Facilitating the writing of the papers and orchestrating each group’s dynamics was a challenge. A brief sketch of my human relations course and its student constituency is in order. Human relations in organizations involves such broad topics as communica- tion, motivation, leadership, conflict management, work groups, organizational culture, and climate. The emphasis of the course is to study the theories underlying these areas as they affect human beings at work-in industrial or service settings, as well as sales, public relations, or corporate management. Within the context of a major university whose graduates find employment in technology, engineering, or agriculture, my human relations course draws students from these majors, as well as some students from liberal arts, communications, marketing, pharmacy, and military science. The grade levels range from semester one freshmen to semester eight seniors; class size is 45 students. The upshot of all this is that an incredible amount of student diversity is gathered in my classroom. Collaborating on a group paper is a challenge for all. INITIAL GROUP FORMATION The formation of working groups in the course is especially important, because students who are total strangers to each other resent being placed in groups randomly. I find that if they have a choice of groups, students like their groups better and feel more in control. This alleviates some stress and prevents later attribution of failure to &dquo;the professor assigned me to this group.&dquo; I have a mini-assessment center exercise in which stu- dents who wish to be considered as group leaders are &dquo;fish-bowled&dquo; and discuss a human relations case while the class observes. Students then choose the classmate whose comments about the case most closely coincide with their own ideas. Thus each group has at least some ideological base from the beginning. Group size is limited to no more than five people. Groups larger than this have trouble meshing busy schedules when meeting outside the classroom. In general, smaller groups encourage more participation and personal discussions; they usually report greater satisfaction at semester’s end, as well. Larger groups have more resources (each student is considered a resource), but subgroups sometimes form, students report being inhibited, and absenteeism from group meetings occurs. Group cohesiveness, or how well group members like and feel close to each other, is more easily established with a small group, and since this feeling or attribute frequently governs the success of the group, it is important in a human relations class. One of my class objectives is to relate textbook prin- ciples to the &dquo;real world&dquo; of the student, since many undergraduates have not had substantive work experience. However, students have had experience being in groups since birth, via a family, a school club, or a fraternity/sorority. The collaborative writing project psychophysically illustrates the principles behind the organization and group dynamics about which they are reading and writing. All this is brought to closure at the end of the semester in a personal reaction paper in which each student assesses personal and group growth, along with perceived needs for change and &dquo;doing it better next time.&dquo; &dquo; PROJECT OUTLINE The group project requires students to complete a mini-diagnostic study of an organization; the purpose is to see the theories of human relations &dquo;in action.&dquo; In addition to experiencing principles of effective human relations by working togetheras a team, the project builds diagnostic and communication skills for students. Groups select their own organizations to study and then focus on the topical area oftheir choice. Examples are: ~ Employee Attitude & Organizational Climate at the Purdue University Police Department ~ Leadership Style at JC Penney & Company ~ Impact of Computers on Purdue’s Food Service ~ Employee Attitudes at Whirlpool Research Cen- ter, Lafayette ~ Performance Appraisals at McDonald’s ~ Macaw’s Restaurant: A Study of Motivational Techniques ~ Human Relations To Go: A Study of Fast Food Employees ~ Communication Structure of Purdue Memorial Union Club
  2. 2. 30 ~ Organizational Culture at A E. Staley South Plant ~ Equal Employment Opportunity and AfBrmative Action at Eli Lilly & Company, Tippecanoe Laboratories . Job Satisfaction at Follett’s Bookstore . Motivational Research on Nurses at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Groups are instructed to research their topics via secon- dary sources prior to contacting an organization. They write a letter to a key contact person introducing the project and expressinginterest in studying the firm. They then call to initiate a meeting and to ask permission to do their study. While they wait for meetings and permission, groups are encouraged to develop a questionnaire, struc- ture interview questions, and research the organization’s history as preparation. After a group’s initial site visit, they return to ask employees or managers the questions the group has selected. As facilitator of these projects, I establish due dates for all paperwork and counsel/critique each group’s written work prior to their administration of surveys, questionnaires, or interviews at the site. Once groups secure their primary data, I encourage their assessment and analysis to draw conclusions and recommendations based on the textbook theories stu- dents are learning. The emphasis is to look at theories and relate them to activities and opinions students have actually seen and gathered on the site. The report format used is: . Title page . Tabe of contents and/or list oftables . Purpose ofthe study . Methodology used . Background/history of the firm . Analysis and discussion ofthe data . Conclusions and recommendations . Works cited . Appendices of tables, contact letters, question- naire results, company publications, pictures, whatever. I also made a mini-APA style book as a guide for students unfamiliar with this information. I require an executive summary of the project to be handed out to classmates during a presentation of the study to the class. Timeframes for the accomplishment ofthese projects are purposely tightened. In other words, I set deadlines for submission ofsecondary research results very shortly after each group is formed. I then set deadlines for each aspect of the report based on a fairly rapid schedule to encourage attention to task completion. I have noted in previous classes that students have more time and ener- gy in thefirsthalfofa semester, so I encourage completion of major work then. I have also noted that students generally don’t reach a fever pitch on a project until very shortly before it is due. ( Ahh, human nature!) Knowing this, I set completion dates for all projects in week nine of the semester and allow groups to negotiate additional time if they need it to produce a quality product. My purpose is to let students experience being given consideration, as opposed to emphasizing task completion of a less-than-good product. Doing this epitomizes the Theory Y, participative management ideas they are reading about in their textbooks. As a follow-up to extending deadlines for project completion, I give all classes a handout detailing the Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid and ask them to indicate what they perceive as my managerial style. Based on my classes, one-third of the students indi- cated &dquo;Organization Man Management,&dquo; or balancing the workload while maintaining morale at a satisfactory level. One-third indicated &dquo;Country Club Management,&dquo; or establishing a friendly, comfortable atmosphere and work tempo by thoughtful attention to the needs of people. One-third indicated ‘Team Management,&dquo; or accomplishing work through committed people in an organization where trust and respect are established. Since the other alternatives in this grid are &dquo;Impoverished Management&dquo; and &dquo;Authority/ Obedi- ence,&dquo; I am pleased to obtain the more pleasant alterna- tives in terms of student feeling about my course management. An important note at this point: the stu- dents feel comfortable and an atmosphere of trust and respect for each other as people is established by mid- semester. Moreover, thisfeelingextended to me as course manager, which is what I had hoped to accomplish with the management style I am using. Mutual respect all around makes achieving objectives far easier. This outcome typifies what students are reading in their textbook as well. Cohesive groups attain a higher level ofsuccess in achieving their objectives and are more satisfied in the process than non-cohesive groups. Fur- ther, cohesive groups with high levels of productivity more readily accept management’s expectations of productivity, which is the climate I try to foster in the classroom. Tolerance of non-conformity with group norms tends to produce low cohesive groups with inter- mediate levels ofproductivity. My insistence on a quality product shows students my own tolerance for non-con- formity, but at the same time they are aware of my concern for them as people in my &dquo;organization.&dquo; Factors which increase group cohesiveness are generally summarized by the students in writing their personal reaction papers at the end of the course. If students like the other people in their group, they are more cohesive and stick together as a team, frequently establishing friendships which last beyond their semester in my classroom. If group membership is
  3. 3. 31 desirable for students, they will frequently excel in their efforts to contribute to the group; thus, non-producers or marginal performers sometimes &dquo;break out&dquo; of their academic lethargy under a cohesive group’s influence. Equal levels of participation among group members encourages cohesiveness as well; dominant or aggressive group members discourage this. Groups which discover similarities among members frequently are more cohesive. Thus, I encourage groups to spend time together on non-task activities so that students find things to like about each other, which usually happens. One group this semester produced a good paper, butfelt they were too task oriented and didn’t have as much fun as the other groups seemed to be having. Near the end of the semester, they spent a day together by sharing lunch, going bowling, and &dquo;setting around&dquo; (Hoosier expression) talking for several hours. End result: they liked each other as persons to such an extent, they regretted not having spent time together previously. As students become aware of one another’s likesJdis- likes, strong/weak points, capabilities/incapacities, they become more of a team, using their resources (them- selves) more advantageously in producing a quality product. For example, one successful group chose to study a drugstore chain, the nearest location ofwhich was a city 100 miles distant from campus. One group member had his pilot’slicense, so he flew the group to the store location. Moreover, they rented a video camera, photographed their activities, and had an absorbing presentation in addition to their paper. Commitment and agreement on group objectives causes cohesiveness to develop. Intergroup competition spurs group performance as well. rve noted that success- ful groups care more about achieving their objectives as a group than in meting out individual credit, which in a normally competitive environment is rare. Finally, suc- cess in achieving group objectives encourages cohesive- ness. In the final analysis, I think the students in their work groups and I, as well, experienced success in achiev- ing course objectives.

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