I bet the Electoral Commissioners can’t work, won’t work together

Charlotte Deputies EcCharlotte Osei, Amadu Sulley and Georgian Opoku-Amankwah

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 Source: K. Badu

There is no gainsaying the fact that the EOCO’s recent bizarre decision to remove one of the three indicted Electoral Commissioners from her office was ‘bang out of order’.

In as much as discerning Ghanaians would like to see strong national institutions, such institutions must, as a matter of principle, abide by the rules and regulations at all times.

It is absolutely true that the ongoing rift at the Electoral Commission is not commendable. But I am afraid it is part and parcel of teamwork.

Indeed, teamwork is synonymous with conflicts or fragmentations, competing priorities, arbitrary divisions of responsibility, inconsistent policies, wasteful resources and unshared boundaries.

Apparently, I have previously disagreed with those who believe that the unfortunate impasse at the Electoral Commission has invariably done irreparable damage to the Commissioners working relations.

But after a carefully considered contemplation, and, more than anything else, I have come to a sad realisation that the sceptics are absolutely right, after all.

And more so I do not acquiesce with those who have been suggesting forcefully that the apparent intractable conflict should have been resolved through an alternative dispute resolution.

In my opinion, though an alternative dispute resolution would not have been possible as the cleavage amongst the Electoral Commissioners is so deep and has gone past the stage that could be reversed through conflict resolution process.

The possible remedy, therefore, will be through conflict management, if the beleaguered Electoral Commissioners were to be cleared by the Impeachment panel.

Believe it or not, team conflict is an interpersonal disagreement between members of a team or group. And, conflict more often than not, impacts negatively on team performance more than anything else.

In theory, however, team conflict may arise when the balance between perceptions, goals, or/and values of the team is upset and members aren’t willing to work together towards achieving the shared goals and values.

Much as each team or group member has his/her own interests and values, a team member is obliged to follow values of the team. However, when there is dissonance between the values, needless cleavage may then emerge.

Besides, team conflict could be either functional or dysfunctional. Functional conflicts are disagreements that do not affect team performance significantly, and, the team often remains functional and able to achieve the desired results.

On the other hand, dysfunctional conflicts are those rifts that arise between team members that often disrupt teamwork and prevent team members from achieving shared goals.

In practice, though, team conflicts or divisions are not limited to a particular team or group. Indeed, conflict is rather a team or group phenomenon, which may be resolved through efficient management.

It must, however, be noted that working collaboratively and sharing new knowledge across teams can be a complicated and challenging process (Wenger, 1998; Gilley and Kerno, 2010).

However, in as much as group or team working can be a challenge, there is an established recognition of the importance of frameworks, interpretive models, systems and flexible methodologies in enabling groups or specific teams to identify common values and learn to handle challenges and work collaboratively and systematically to achieve a common goal (Checkland & Poulter, 2006).

But in spite of the seeming challenges associated with teamwork, some optimists insist that in the presence of periodic on-job training, effective interactions, information sharing, mutual respect and understanding, the team can work synergistically towards achieving a common goal (Reeves et al. 2009).

It is also absolutely true that a team is a very special form of group in which members are required to cooperate and voluntarily coordinate their work. Suffice it to state that within the team, there must be a high level of cohesion, participation, support and shared values, and, in order to reach this important stage of maturity, teams need to develop and blossom.

Some experts, however, posit four pillars of an effective integrated team as degree of integration, team membership, team process issues, and team management (Øvretveit 1997).

In a great scheme of things, the dynamics of a team are highly complex, and hence getting diverse teams such as the Electoral Commission to work collaboratively and effectively may require a lot of team interactions, mutual respect and understanding, effective communication and information sharing.

Take, for example, Hoegl (2005) posits that the quality of teamwork can comprehensively be assessed by considering six thematic factors of the collaborative work process: communication, coordination, and balance of member contributions, mutual support, effort, and cohesion.

Suffice it to stress that the six teamwork quality facets espouse elements of both task-related and social interaction within teams (Cummings, 1978; Hoegl et al., 2003).

More importantly, Baker, Day, & Salas, (2006) observe that service delivery is a joint effort by team members, whose tasks, interactions and collaboration need to be synchronised.

Similarly, team collaboration is synonymous with shared aims, interdependence, shared decision-making efforts and a collegial and equal relationship between members (D’Amour, Ferrada-Videla, San Martín-Rodriquez, & Beaulieu, 2005).

And what is more, the absence of coordination, relevant resources and lack of operational integration produce conflicts, wasteful and inefficient services (Hannigan, 1999).

Interestingly, team working has a perceptible likeness to “harnessing a crab, a swan, and a pike onto a single wagon and expecting them to move” (Tubin and Levin-Rozalis, 2008).

Suffice it to state that the aforementioned creatures have dissimilar adaptations, and, there is no propinquity between them. In other words, they differ in nature and more so culturally incongruous.

So, in order to get them “moving” together effectively, they must first learn how to do that, in other words, they must undergo group process to unlock the innate barriers (Bushe and Coetzer, (2007).

To put it metaphorically, tying “a swan, a crab and a pike” and tasking them to “move” together smoothly without tackling the inherent barriers would be an uphill task by all standards.

We should, however, not lose sight of the fact that the widespread violence following the previously relatively orderly elections in Kenya on 8th August 2017 and in Zimbabwe on 29 March 2008 accentuate the need to have a credible electoral management body.

Thus, should the Commissioners be exonerated following the impeachment process, they must, as a matter of urgency, endeavour to develop into effective teams in order to be able to coordinate individual activities for pragmatic outcomes.

Let us be honest, though, human beings are bound to make mistakes in their day-to-day living activities, but such errors may be corrected through carefully considered reflections.

"reflection is the process of stepping back from an experience to ponder carefully and persistently, its meaning to the self through the development of inferences; learning is the creation of meaning from past or current events that serves as a guide for future behaviour"(Daudelin 1996, p. 39).

The preceding acceptation means that reflection is integral to learning when learning is explicated as making sense of past experience in order to affect and understand future experience.

Columnist: K. Badu