Stage 1: Facts related to the problem situation.
Four people come together on a new venture; they happen to be family members.
They are engage in selling olive oil as a family business for years and now wish to expand.
Initial enthusiasm and zest for “Tapenade” gives away to frustrations and strained relations.
Each member starts off with a given specific role: Barb investigates on other farms engaged in a similar activity, Barry researches on new machinery requirements, Christine a business plan, and Carl on a marketing plan for the new venture.
Conflict between Carl and Christine on ownership of the business and lack of clarity of their future roles. Both are beset with doubts leading to insecurity and this impasse.
Barry and Barb feel that Carl and Christine are too obsessed on the new project and ignoring the existing olive oil business.
Carl and Christine get into knots about whether his marketing plans must dovetail her business plan or not. It appears the insecurities have more to do with their frustrations of who inherits the business than honest differences on strategy.
Barry refuses to approach his bankers on the new approach unless the existing business is run efficiently.
Both Barry and Barb feel these business plans and marketing plans are a bit new fangled ideas that they cannot relate to. The feud and differences between Carl and Christine hasn’t made things easy too or given them any confidence.
Stage 2: What are the likely causes of the problem situation?
• What stage do you think the group/team is in? How is this affecting the team?
The group is in a storming stage as intragroup conflicts spill over as to who will lead the group and what the group will be doing. The parents want the existing business not to slack in any way from distractions of the new venture. Carl and Christine are convinced of the soundness of the new project and its potential; they feud however amongst themselves for lack of clarity of the future ownership of the enterprise. This group is the at the crossroads and can go either direction – continue to hostile to each other and nip any prospect in Tapenade venture or come together with a renewed sense of purpose and differences sort out to emerge stronger as a group. Besides both must come together and convince Barry and Barb on the new age opportunities and business practices.
• What do you think are the preferred group roles of the members? Is this likely to cause problems?
Are there some roles that need to be taken on, that do not appear to covered at this stage? It is a very compact group of four members. Barb, the matron, can snoop around the neighbourhood and find at first hand as how other businesses engaged in this activity are faring.
Extremely beneficial “informal” research on the way the Tapenade market works; the pitfalls to avoid. Having access to this information is good start off the blocks. Barry has been in the business of selling olive oil for ages and managing a farm for years. This experience would come in handy at looking at machinery for Tapenade; their sourcing, different options, financing, etc. Christine is the one with a flair of making plans and validating them with her peers on the soundness of it. Carl, another college educated would be in a better position to understand the nuances of the business plan. So the roles are clearly defined: leverage on the experience and contacts of Barb and Barry.
Leverage new business ideas and strategies from both Carl and Christine. Both sets of sub-groups must understand what they bring to the table and what the other brings too. Since it is a family, Barry as head of the family must assume a natural leadership position or it could be Barb too – a sobering influence to Carl and Christine. They need to encourage the newer generation on sound ideas and also at times rein in from an overdose of enthusiasm and a level of risk that goes overboard.
• What’s happening with communication and trust? Are family members clear about what they want in relation to the farm? How is this affecting the Tapenade venture?
There has been a breakdown in communications and trust. The picture of Christine storming out, Carl slouching off in the meeting, and Barry critical of new ideas is a sad tale of conflict and animosity. The family members aren’t very clear on their expectation from the farm. Both Barb and Barry want the olive business to continue. Their commitment to the new venture is not at the cost of the old; but there must be trade-off somewhere. To what extent they are willing to invest money and time on Tapenade. They need to get this clarity right; or at least how long they would give the new venture to grow on its feet. Carl and Christine need to find clarity on their own roles in the new farm. What would be their share of equity? How do Barb and Barry decide on the future inheritance of the farm? If this question is the stumbling block and cause of rancour, it must be resolved now.
• How could this group run more effective meetings?
First and foremost each member must realize the shared sense of purpose – of sharing a new venture and making a success of it. It is a small group and it cannot afford even one member not in sync or working at cross purposes. There is an operational role-clarity amongst the group; the stumbling issue of inheritance or share of equity must be discussed so that it does not play on the minds and make relations antagonistic. Both Barb and Barry must know that new opportunities though fraught with risk are more likely to generate better returns.
They must have faith in Carl and Christine’s business judgement given their years at the university learning new skills. Carl and Christine must also appreciate their parents have spent the entire lifetime in the farm and more likely to have intuition closer to reality. The need of the hour is TRUST and RESPECT. We are in together; we swim ashore as a team or we most definitely will sink. The most effective way to conduct meeting is to LISTEN to each other’s viewpoints, concerns, and their fears. Then if any concern is real then they must be addressed in an environment of UNDERSTANDING and EMPATHY. It is important for each member of the group to feel listened; their concerns are factored in. A strong sense of purpose of creating and managing a new business, its vast potential must be one binding factor that must cement these four people on a platform. Communication and leadership are the need of the hour.
• How is power and influence playing a part?
In this case study one does not seem the emergence of a leader; one whom the rest can sufficiently trust to keep their interests and lead them. Though it is family; both Carl and Christine have grown to become individuals on their own right. Both don’t reside in the main house with their parents. There does not seem to be any bind for them to work together except the attractiveness of the new venture. Power and influence don’t seem to play a part except that Barry owns and manages the farm. So his decisions on matters of the farm are the final word.
Stage 3: What needs to happen to improve the situation?
The group has come to situation where status-quo is not possible. If they want to remain committed to the new project certain measures are called for. First an affirmation of resolve: All the four must realize that they have come together on a venture, if successful could change their lives. Second is a realization of functional unity – there is no room for differences, emotional outbursts and frayed tempers. Third is role clarity and definition. The fears of Barb and Barry must be addressed – both Carl and Christine need to address this by setting a timetable by which these business projections are validated. They need to be aware of the risks involvement, investments, and time before the new venture starts to generate revenue. They also need to be explained on the breakeven point in terms of expenses and time before the new venture finds firmer footing. That should hopefully assuage the anxiety of Barb and Barry. They may also choose discuss with other friends who are knowledgeable for reassurance. Both Carl and Christine need to come together in this mission of convincing Barb and Barry – how new business ideas work. They must resolve the equity in the farm with help from their parents. It is important that they keep their fears in check and build win-win situations for others. This is just a four member group and an after dinner stroll in the terrace or garden should be adequate to address the fears. Being family members’ empathy is easier to seek and get.
It is easier to handle family members from my own experience. All the bent up frustrations and animosity can be resolved with just the right word or apology. There is no escaping family while it is easy to quit on strangers.
Stage 4: Reflections on your learning (1-2 pages)
Life teaches us in every direction – sometimes “concrete experiences” where one painful incident serves as a deterrent to any further activity in that sphere. There are also occasions when “reflective observations” have provided a balm to the turmoils in the mind. So does “active experimentation” and “abstract conceptualization”.
There has been a lot of learning in my life. Let me start with reference to Kolb’s inventory. I had this “concrete experience” of a dentist who extracted my chewing teeth than do a root canal treatment and save it. After that I simply refrained from going there and no amount of explanation will change my mind on his competency again.
We all learn my imitations even as kid. Observe something in the environment and if suits us, we follow. It is better to observe others and learn than go through the experience yourself. Before my heart surgery, I took the trouble of meeting friends who had gone through the experience. It helps to know the intricacies before hand and mentally prepare oneself to the rigour.
“Active experimentation” in my instant triggered when my I found myself alone to fend. I had to engage a cook, manage household chores, buy groceries, mop the floors, and take complete responsibility. I did not even know how to make a cup of tea five years back and now I am an expert at the kitchen. The first time I bought a “hair oil” mistaking it for a “hair shampoo” as the packaging was similar and the font identical. I wondered at the shower as to why the shampoo would not foam till I read the package carefully. From those days of ineptitude I have come a long distance.
“Abstract Conceptualization” to me comes into play in my spiritual studies. These are theoretical aspects of who god? Why god? Matters relating to death? etc .
There is also of things for the mind to imbibe learning spiritual truths. They have their own subliminal impact and give a perspective to living.
Is there any preference to a method of learning, I am not sure. I like to learn things doing mundane things (like fixing a fuse or choosing a doctor) from “experimentation” – especially in situation where there is a need to learn. I like to learn spiritual truth from “abstract conceptualization”. How to choose friends at office, how to behave at parties or any occasions where there are stakes, I prefer to prepare in advance from “reflective observations”. I had a bitter experience dating a Punjabi woman and since then I steer clear of that race in matters of romance.
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