Thursday, 4 April 2013

The other side of Teams and Groups

It seems so strange to discover that I had neither thought nor read about this before.It should have been as obvious as the fact that Sun rises in the East.I  start counting the possible reasons why I did not think of it earlier .Maybe , we are all taught since childhood that  teams are good , that  it is a good thing to participate in teams and group activities , that  teams create synergy for the larger good  , that the wisdom of a collective is far higher than that of an individual , and so on .But one fine morning , I realized that there is another side to it .It relates to the question of of allocation of  responsibility among the members of a team when  the decision of  a team is questioned .Are the members of a group equally responsible?Is it possible that the responsibility is divisible unequally among members?What are the norms and rules governing legal responsibility  vis-a-vis those governing moral responsibility ?The legal responsibility is governed by Laws while the moral responsibility is discussed in philosophy .
                          Literature is very scanty on this subject and the field is wide open  for research .It has been neglected by scholars and philosophers so far , and I hope more research is done in this very important, practical area of life .Till that happens , be very careful about the words like synergy and team building .These are fine as long as going is good .But as soon as things are questioned , you begin to  think what prompted you accept the membership of the group , team or committee in the first place .
              Recently I read one excellent book called "Individuals, Groups and shared Moral Responsibility" by Gregory Mellema.It is 214 pages  , published by Peter Lang Publishing,Inc.,New York in 1988.I quote him:" Among those employed by formal organizations is experienced a great deal of uncertainty as to the moral status of their participation in group actions.When decisions are made by groups or committees, when these decisions are implemented  by the cooperative activity of  several people, or when representatives from different organizations  jointly design policy , questions about the ascription of responsibility frequently arise.These questions are not always raised in an overt fashion.  ;sometimes individuals simply wonder to what extent they bear responsibility  for what happens.But these are questions of considerable importance , questions which deserve to be considered not only by philosophers but by those in fields such as organizational behavior,sociology.communications, and anthropology."This book has given me a completely new  and unexplored view about the working of teams and committees.I strongly recommend you to read this book , especially if you are working in Government or large corporate or public sector corporation.
                           Policy decisions in both the public and private sectors are increasingly designed and implemented by groups of individuals.Recommendations are made by committees and their presentation , approval and implementation is also done by committees. Within  a committee, there could be  hierarchies , seniorities and pressures. Which factors affect the degree to which an individual bears responsibility when the responsibility is shared with others.There are at least four factors:
1.The agent's motive
2.The agent's contributing action
3.The corcumstances surrounding the performance of the contributing action .
4.The degree of risk one knowingly takes that the outcome will occur.It can be intention , recklessness and negligence.
Sharing responsibility does not mean that agents are equally responsible.It is  also not clear whether responsibility is borne by each and every individual employee of the organization .
           If a group recommends , is it responsible for the final outcome , or is it the group which approved it , or is it the group which implemented it?What is a contributing action?Is it to make some recommendation , or is it  also the same if an agent remains silent and let others decide?Is deliberate  inaction also  a contributing action?If there are distinct meetings, does each meeting become a distinct action leading to 
to final action?Does an unwilling participant have the same responsibility as a willing participant?Does it make a difference in responsibility  if an agent has a power to veto , and another agent does not have power to veto?Is the responsibility of an agent more if he presents and promotes the recommendation?A contributing action need not always be  a causal contribution.
    The person in charge  is particularly responsible. We assume that the choice is free, but is each agent really free to express views?
When a person is nominated as a member of a committee,he acts as a representative of his organization/department and can  contribute views which are to be regarded as the department's  views.it is important to distinguish between the acts of individuals in their official capacity and in their private capacity.
Were the rules of the game properly observed?
Was there any prior planning?
Ethical dilutionism is a view that the degree of an individual's moral responsibility for a state of affairs is lessened or diminished by the fact that others in the group are responsible  for the same state of affairs.Many Philosophers including Mellema do not agree with ethical dilutionism.
Responsibility  with respect to outcome and with respect to the decision to participate are different.
Very little has been said of the social dynamics of participating in group actions and their impact upon the manner in which the members of the group come to share responsibility for what happens.
When we see the actual working of a committee in a government in India , we find the committees  broadly agreeing with the views of the  chair person .There is rare scope of dissent, or even a different view.The decision making represents the power structure in the composition of the committees.But when the recommendations , decisions , approvals and implementation are questioned , responsibility is sought to be attributed equally.In such a scenario, it  is important to reflect carefully before agreeing to become a member of a committee.If one does become a member of a committee, one must be clear about one's role  and express boldly  and get recorded one's views .This presumes an open system for free and frank discussion , which alas is quite infrequent.Till this happens , there is a need to have a fresh look at the way we allocate and distribute responsibility among members of the committee , group or team .This is the other side of  working in teams.