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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Carolina Conversation case study exercise sets stage for effective group work

Gloria Thomas, center, encourages participants at the Nov. 14 Carolina Conversation to respond to questions about belonging within working groups, while June Merlino records answers on a flip-chart.

With an emphasis on defining roles and rules, the Nov. 14 Carolina Conversations session, Cultivating Belonging within Intergroup and Collaborative Partnerships, took participants through a case study on developing a campus civility statement.

The exercise, led by Gloria Thomas, director of the Carolina Women’s Center, and June Merlino, associate director for faculty development in leadership at the Center for Faculty Excellence, was similar to one used at THINKposium.

Thomas warmed up the students, faculty and staff by reminding them of results from the THINKposium and asking for more suggestions. For instance, the August group answered three questions about what belonging means, what it feels like in practice and how is it exhibited? Thomas showed answers to each question, then asked “What’s missing?” Participants suggested numerous new answers and explained their thoughts on them as Merlino wrote them on a flip-chart.

After defining “belonging” and discussing how to address challenges to belonging when working in groups, attendees participated in a case study which required them to put those ideas into action.

In each step of the process, they evaluated how to create a sense of belonging in the team and what behaviors might be missing. Their ideas and notes were captured on flip charts and participants took a “gallery walk” viewing the charts and discussing the ideas on them.

As the exercise showed, it’s important to use a chartering process to define how a new group will work together. Merlino stressed that extra effort up front before a group begins work pays off. Part of the exercise had participants setting up guidelines for interpersonal behavior, focusing how to create a sense of belonging, how participants would give and receive feedback and how the group would address conflict.

“The charter is an ounce of prevention that’s worth a pound of cure,” Merlino said. “It provides goals, scope and behaviors. We sometimes see people acting out in interpersonal relationships, so we want to be explicit about how we want to treat each other.”

During a “gallery walk,” one of the groups discusses and lists interpersonal behaviors that will help members handle conflict as they work together.

Merlino said the chartering process is an interactive way to include everyone but said that not everyone will know how to model the behaviors. She encouraged the group to seek training through the Situation — Behavior — Impact (SBI) method or through Carolina’s Human Resources seminars and development opportunities. “Decide what skills your team needs and invite people to participate. Building the skills is fun; it’s development and helps with accountability,” she said.

Thomas added that teams often have a short time to complete their work, so it’s important to be thorough in the processes and not skip steps. “The interpersonal piece is so important. A lot of communication might take place outside of your meetings, and the groundwork that you’ve done in your rules and regulations will also apply to the time the time that you spend together.”

The event was sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Rumay Alexander, chief diversity officer and associate vice chancellor, endorsed the chartering process. “Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. After you’ve worked through the process, it’s easier to move things along,” she said. “It’s time well spent because in the end it’s going to pay off. Invest the time to really set the stage for your work.”