Group Dynamics in a B-School

September 2009

Working in groups is definitely a learning. Especially if the group has people from different parts of India. IIMs are a great place in terms of regional diversity. You have people from different pockets of India and hence the academic groups formed are also quite diverse.

It is very interesting to note the different context in which people from different regions perceive things. There is a particular image people have about people from other parts of the country. So, Bihar has a special image and so does Bombay...oops Mumbai! I recently got scolded by a colleague at IIM for calling the city Bombay instead of Mumbai. He makes sure everyone on campus calls Mumbai, 'Mumbai' and not 'Bombay'. Coming back to the main topic ,almost everyone hates the Communists in Bengal and most feel that Mamta Banerjee was wrong in driving the Nano out of Bengal except for a few passionate Bengalis who argue in class against it. I don't know who is right and who is wrong but I know for sure that everyone's opinions(including mine) are highly clouded by the settings they come from . There is a constant argument between people who hail from Delhi and Mumbai regarding which is the better city. Narendra Modi divides the class right across the middle with strong opinions emerging on both sides. I have seen most of the South Indians on the campus to be verbally less aggressive and found them to be better listeners. Most of the North Indians are very vocal and talk a lot. They usually take the initiative in doing things. People across the campus have the tendency to interact more within their own regional group and in their native language. This was more at the commencement of the course and has slowly reduced a little. What's also a new experience for me is the fact that not everyone on campus knows hindi.(Not that I can claim to know it too well. The Bambaiyaa hindi which is a mixture of english,gujarati and marathi is unique). You never have a problem communicating with anyone in Bombay as everyone knows some form of Hindi. Here, I think English is the more common language. I also cannot help smile when so many people introduce themselves as " Myself, XYZ will present ......." :-)

Of course, not everyone has to conform to the stereotypes and not everyone is the way you expect them to be. Maybe, there are no stereotypes. It may just be intellectual laziness wanting to classify people without taking the effort to dig deeper. All said and done people have traits and their own eccentricities and that's what makes group interactions very interesting. It can be very smooth sailing or wrought with communication issues. The only thing that keeps all of them(umm...okay most of them) together is the need to get a good grade. There are people in the group who could not care less and they need to be woken up from their slumber each time there is a group activity. They never turn up for meetings and always come up with substandard work. This forces the other more diligent ones to take on that person's share of work too. These guys are called 'free riders'. They have nothing much to contribute to the group. A lot of them (mind you , not everyone) are ones who have not entered the place on merit but on some historical inequity. That brings me to another aspect. If it is known in a place like this, who has entered on merit and who has not it leads to preconceived notions about the ability of people who came via some certificate. Even if they are good, they are viewed through a prism of 'Ok, you're just plain lucky to be here. Now prove yourself' kind of a thing. Even companies who come on campus want to find out in some way each student's route to IIM. Some will say it explicitly, some will be very subtle. Some companies have already devised ways to check that. It's not too difficult I think.

So it's wonderful when a study group comes together to work. Either it will settle into a nice rhythm and people will understand what is to be done next without too much communication or else the entire term will be wrought with issues. Mistrust, frustration, anger, condescending attitudes, accusations and disappointments. Often you see groups led by natural leaders. Even in a place like IIM where everyone is quite accomplished (atleast they think they are accomplished) some people naturally become leaders in a group. It may happen after a little bit of tension. Sometimes it just happens smoothly where others in a group respect and listen to one person. Allocation of roles is the key. Once a group knows each other's strengths and weaknesses it becomes much easier. People take up roles and they are expected to do it in a satisfactory manner.

The fun is when there is a conflict. Conflict of interest or conflict due to divergent opinions. That's when what the other person really thinks of you comes out. All the deep rooted biases and prejudices are blurted out in a matter of seconds. During a heated argument, a person becomes naked. The real person suddenly comes to the fore. One's own insecurities , goals and aspirations interfere with those of the group's. The self-centredness in all of us is exposed.