Sunday, March 19th, 2017
Group Tasks, though not as common as group discussions and WATs, present us with challenges of their own kind.
A group task aims to evaluate the candidate on psychological parameters so that the evaluators can understand the candidates’ comprehension, communication, decision making, and leadership quality within the dynamic context of a group. Working in a group, the candidates also demonstrate their social and interpersonal skills to the panel.
The objective of a group task is to perform a clearly-defined exercise within the stipulated time, by using the available resources and ensuring clear communication within the group, so as to achieve the given objective.
Group tasks are primarily of 2 types: intellectual tasks and physical tasks. This distinction does not imply that physical tasks involve no intellectual work. Intellectual tasks could be the problems that you can solve sitting around a table, just like you do in a group discussion. Physical tasks, on the other hand,may require the group members to move around in the room to accomplish the desired objective.
A famous example of an ‘intellectual’ group task is “Lost at Sea”. You can find it easily through Google. In this task, the group members are required to imagine themselves in the middle of a problematic situation, and are presented with some items which they must arrange in the order of priority with the aim of attempting to extricate themselves from this situation.
One of the physical tasks commonly conducted by several institutions is as follows: The participants are divided into two groups. One group is blindfolded and given a long, single rope which the blindfolded participants hold in their hands. The blindfolded members have no other function to perform except to follow the oral instructions given by the other group, who is not blindfolded. The members of the latter group are then given a figure, such as a star, which they must now form among the blindfolded group by repositioning the blindfolded participants as necessary. The catch is that they cannot touch the blindfolded ones, or the rope. They must only give oral instructions to achieve the objective. Furthermore, the blindfolded participants do not know what formation (star, for example) needs to be created among them. Thus, this exercise becomes an excellent test of clarity of thought and communication. In fact, the larger the non-blindfolded group, the more difficult it gets, as the challenge to communicate clearly within a group intensifies in proportion to the size of the group.
Whether the task is intellectual or physical, the evaluation parameters of a group task remain the same. They are as follows:
The 4-step Process of Approaching a Group Task:
Having been presented with a task that has a clear objective, and a clear time limit, most participant usually cannot resist the temptation to jump headlong into a group task. This is precisely what must not happen. Like any other selection activity – GD or WAT – group tasks require planning before acting.
A group task can be approached in the following steps:
One of the issues that hinders the comprehension of the problem is the presence of the target. Having a clear target ironically can make us race towards the solution without fully observing the problem. For example, every time I have asked a group to make a the aforementioned star formation, from the word go the group starts barking random instructions at the people who are blindfolded, without even realizing that the blindfolded people have no way of knowing that they are being addressed. The point is, we must first observe the situation calmly for a minute or two without letting the zeal or the pressure of the moment dominate us.
Every critical situation has its demands, which must be addressed in the correct order of priority. For example, before we instruct the blindfolded group, we must quickly develop a system of addressing them before anything else can be done. Hence designing such a system – for example, addressing them by numbers – becomes the first priority. Even such an elementary stage requires us to make crucial decisions. For example, if we choose to address the blindfolded people by their names, instead of numbers, things can quickly get very complicated, as we may not know them beforehand and considerable time could be wasted in trying to figure them out. Even if we know them beforehand, each member in the non-blindfolded group may not be able to retain them. Having clearly displayed numbers will eliminate this problem in an instant.
As it is true for any group activity, in a group task if nobody is clear on what they should do, everybody will try to do everything. This is a recipe for disaster.
Depending on the nature of the group task, we must divide the responsibilities appropriately within the group. For example, in the above task, the blindfolded group will always find it easier to receive instructions from only one or two members of the other group than to listen to everybody screaming at them simultaneously.
Optimization of the resources puts your creativity to test. We may have a clear objective, but if we are unable to see how the resources at hand can be best utilized, the problem, at best, shall be only partly solved, it may even remain entirely unsolved. For example, one of the easiest ways to create the star formation is to place the non-blindfolded members (who are our most obvious resources) at the nodal positions of the star, and then make the blindfolded members to simply follow them. The objective can be accomplished in less than 2 minutes. Basic as it seems, no group that I have ever observed has ever thought of this!
What complicates the step 4 is usually a lack of proper communication within the group. In my observation, there are two kinds of groups: one, where one or two individuals are dominating and the others are sitting passively; two, where everybody is trying to dominate the proceedings. Both are counterproductive to the aims of a group task.
In the former, the dominating duo will usually run wild, as their ideas are not really critically assessed by the other members, who are either yielding to domination or sitting inertly as if they were in trance.
In the latter, nothing else will really happen except everyone screaming at the top of their voices and trying to hog the limelight. Neither group will achieve the objective.
An alternative approach to these two is to approaching the task analytically and get everybody to contribute to it by achieving clear and cordial communication within the group. The participant who can take the lead to this is obviously in a position to showcase his/her leadership qualities to the panel.
DO NOT forget that the panel constantly observes the interaction within the group. So no matter what happens, DO NO BE A NON-PARTICIPANT. Quite a few candidates, who may even be methodical individuals with potential to contribute significantly to the task, give up quickly when chaos takes over. They feel that they are unlucky to be included in a bunch of impossible hoodlums, and their body language reflects their frustration. DO NOT ever think like this. We are a team, and no matter what happens, we must do whatever is necessary to achieve the objective, and that includes restoring order within the group that is coming undone.
How to Approach an Extempore Task:
An extempore is a non-formal speech given impromptu. Among all B-school selection processes, extempore is something with which we are most habituated. It is just that we have not seen it that way. If we are late for a class without having a good reason, the explanation we make up for the teacher is a kind of extempore. When we make up a story about why we have to cancel a date, it could be an extempore.
What is the most important thing to do in such situations? KEEP CALM and CARRY ON.
If we panic, the person on the other side will see through us instantly.
In the B-schools that have an extempore round, the exercise is usually of one minute. In some cases, we may be offered a pen and paper to jot down the points before speaking, while in some cases we may not be. We, therefore, must be prepared to make a mental note of our points.
Extempore tasks test the following: presence of mind, analytical skill, creativity in interpreting the topic, organisation and coherence in arranging our ideas, communication skill in connecting with the audience, and overall presentation in terms of body language, eye contact, poise etc.
Extempore topics, while being completely random, are generally of two types: specific and general. For example, ‘Renewable Energy’ is a specific topic, while ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ is a general topic, which has no obvious direction to be followed.
The former type can be approached in the following ways, depending on how much you know about the topic:
These are but some examples of how a topic can be approached in different ways. Do not feel the compulsion to talk on the topic from the first second. Decide on the approach you wish to take, and then plan the intro, the body, and the conclusion. This small plan will save you from being stuck in the moments of silence that seem to last forever when you are facing the panel.
In the case of a general topic, things are in fact easier because you have a complete freedom to interpret the topic in any way you want. The easiest of which is a metaphorical interpretation.
If you have to talk on ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, you do not necessarily have to refer to the great Hemingway. Instead speak on what situation the topic brings to your mind. Associate it with any field you can talk on. For example, the topic can also suggest an interpretation of the warning bell that tolls for the Indian e-commerce companies, as the foreign entrants in the field flex their muscles. Alternatively, you may even talk on the older, established players in a team being under the threat of being replaced by the youngsters. There is really no limit to how many ways you can interpret such a topic. Before you speak, think for a few second as to which field you are most comfortable with, most exposed to, most informed on, and let that lead you further.
The key, I repeat, is Keep Calm and Carry On.
A Few Words on the Pictorial/Video WAT:
The common rules, methods, and the evaluation criteria that apply to the usual topic-based WATs – which we have discussed the previous posts – also apply similarly to the picture-based and the video-based WATs.
However, there are some unique mistakes that many candidates make while dealing with the picture/video-based WATs.
First, avoid beginning with the ‘According to me, this pic/video means….” kind of start. It is not only boring but also usually superficial, as most candidates are unable to extend the metaphor.
Instead, observe the image or the video. Look at it like Sherlock would. Observe its details. Try to understand why the artist or the director made it, what is the message they want to convey through it. Try to put yourself in the maker’s shoes, and see things from their perspective. Observe the colours, the composition, the camera angles, the use of light, the symbolism. Try to analyse the impact it has on the intended audience. You may then conclude the essay by talking about how it impacted you.
The second mistake usually occurs when the candidates are given two images. Most candidates then, take an easy approach and repeat the first mistake of the “According to me…” kind of beginning with each image. So, they effectively write two individual essays on two different images and merely put the two paragraphs together to make it look like a single essay.
This is a cheap escape. It will not fetch anyone a great score.
Instead, ask yourself: why have I been given two images together instead of one?
The answer is obvious. The panel wants you to find a connection. You must find a connection between the two. The easiest way to find the connection is to find a common thought of which both the images could be two different manifestations.
I wish I could explain it further, but it cannot really be explained beyond this. What connection you see in any two random images depends entirely on what you think, how you think, how much you observe generally, and what and how much you read.
So in conclusion we are back to the same point: reading and observation.
In the parting moment, this is what I have to say: No matter what you choose to become – a management professional, or something else – read thoroughly, read extensively. Observe everything. Feel everything. Think freely, and then go beyond thought. Allow yourself to be changed by what you learn.
That is the only way to live life.