A failure to communicate

A look into dreaded group work and why people don’t like working with others

Stephenson J. Beck’s presentation focused on why people don’t work well in teams.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, Phi Kappa Phi held the fifth annual faculty lectureship, in which they honor a nominated staff member who is recognized as a scholar in service to others.

This year’s honor went to Stephenson J. Beck, the Communication Department chair and associate professor. Beck is known for his work in investigating the strategic nature of interaction which is described as how people create and adapt messages to accomplish their individual and group purposes.

Beck’s research has been published in a number of top journals and has also received a variety of awards. His lecture titled “Why Can’t We Get Along?” covered the issues that arise when working as a team.

“Most of our disasters have been related to group dysfunction.”

Stephenson J. Beck, Communication Department chair and associate professor

“When we have difficulties in society, we tend to go to groups to resolve them.” Beck began. He cited task forces as an example, specifically the one just put into place by President Dean Bresciani for the strategic planning process at NDSU.

Beck went on by pointing out the irony in our reliance on groups saying, “Most of us dislike working with groups.” He even took a poll with most of the audience admitting that they disliked working with groups.

Beck then provided research confirming the fact. He continued saying that throughout history, “Most of our disasters have been related to group dysfunction. Whether that be Pearl Harbor, or the Challenger disaster, or a variety of other disasters, researchers in retrospect have analyzed these groups and have determined that group functioning problems are a key reason why these disasters took place.”

Then Beck began to describe the archetypes or roles that people take when working as a group such as the slacker or the person who relies on the volume of voice to get their ideas across.

“Despite the mockery we have of groups, time and time again we turn to groups and turn to team-making skills as the number one need of employers. They look for individuals who work well with others.”

His point was that “Groups tend to be dysfunctional,” and they naturally maneuver towards dysfunctionality. 

For the remainder of the presentation, Beck geared his focus on three reasons why we don’t work well with others.

The first was, as Beck stated, “We struggle to know others’ expectations.” This is the idea that if we do not know what people want or what needs to happen, we create obstacles.

The second was “We often assume the worst in others.” This is the idea that “If something is viewed as personal or if we have a personal incentive, we not only assume it but often we have that personal incentive it does lead us to act differently,” Beck said.

The third is that “Successful group interaction does not often occur naturally.” This idea states that by nature, talking and communicating, etc. is a difficult thing to do properly.

All these obstacles are considered human obstacles and have simple answers as Beck explained they are all rooted in communication. Dysfunctionality is inevitable, it’s up to you to work it out with your group.

Leave a Reply