3 Self-Determination Theory, autonomy and collaborative attitude

Numerous studies on team effectiveness deal with procedure-oriented interventions: how to enforce specific teamwork skills and behavioral engagement. These are primarily about goal-oriented issues such as group reflexivity and after-action reviews (collectively referred to as feedback) (Kluger & DeNisi 1996; Smither et al 2005). Dealing with feedback, referred to as group reactive planning (Marks, et al., 2001), is an essential determinant of group effectiveness (DeChurch & Haas, 2008). However, reactivity to feedback depends on how procedure-oriented interventions are processed by group members (Smither et al., 2005). This processing seems to be determined by at least two personality traits; the first concerns goal orientation and the second perception of autonomy.

Dealing with feedback: goal orientation and perceived autonomy

 Smither et al. (2005) observed a wide variation in the way group members process feedback. To explain this, they proposed that feedback works best for recipients with high self-efficacy and a “learning” goal-orientation. Learning goal-orientation includes goals related to a mastery approach; eager to learn for personal development and to make the group work better (Deci et al., 1981; Chapter 9, p216, Ryan & Deci, 2017; described in “Relationship Motivation Mini-Theory” of Self-Determination Theory, Chapter 12, p293, Ryan & Deci, 2017; Vansteenkiste et al., 2004). Feedback works less for recipients who focus on managing others’ impressions of them (Smither et al., 2005). In this case, we are dealing with performance goal-orientation (VanSteenkiste et al., 2004). The second personality trait associated with a positive effect of feedback is that the recipient has a sense of control over the desired improvement (Maurer & Palmer, 1999). The sense of control depends on the context, what choices are given to group members: both by group members themselves (how open are they) and by leaders or instructors. It follows that group reactivity is likely to be greater in autonomy-supportive contexts associated with mastery goal-orientation. These motivational constructs link the quality of motivation to group effectiveness.

Self-Determination Theory and group work

From the perspective of Self-Determination Theory, self-control is important because it leads to a greater degree of perceived autonomy (Ryan & Deci, 2000a, 2000b) and this impacts on the quality of motivation. Briefly, the Self-Determination Theory posits that the motivation for undertaking an activity in a self-determined fashion (with high volition) requires the fulfillment of three basic psychological needs, which are: a perceived sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Here, autonomy refers to the need for choice and the need to feel ownership for one’s behavior, also expressed as a sense of agency and perceived internal causality (De Charms, 1968; Deci & Ryan, 1985). Autonomy should not be confused with independence. The need for competence is generally understood as being the consequence of an inner necessity to produce desired outcomes, to experience a sense of usefulness and personal causation (Deci & Ryan, 1980; White, 1959). Lastly, the need for relatedness pertains to the feeling of belonging to a group of friends or peers. The need for relatedness with significant others originates from studies dealing with interpersonal attachments, also known as identification with peers (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Reis, 1994). Autonomy has a special status among the three psychological needs because it is the vehicle through which the organization of personality proceeds and through which other psychological needs are actualized. Environments that warrant fulfillment of these needs are therefore said to be autonomy-supportive (Deci et al., 1994; Kusurkar et al., 2011; Kusurkar & Croiset, 2015; Reeve & Jang, 2006).

figure 1. taxonomy of human motivation

The theory further posits that depending on the level of satisfaction or frustration of needs, motivation occurs in different qualities, ranging from amotivation, externally-regulated to intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000a, 2000b) (see figure 1). External regulation can be further divided in two categories, where people work under external or internal pressure (controlled motivation, non-self-determined) or where people have identified or integrated the importance of the task (autonomous motivation, self-determined). The more people internalize their motivation the more they are self-determined and, as a consequence, self-regulated (Zimmerman, 1990, 2008). Internalization leads to a sense of wellness because of the integration of need satisfaction with goal setting (high level of congruence).

Autonomous motivation is conducive to effective group work

Important for collaborative learning, autonomous motivation is more conducive to the employment of adaptive interpersonal skills and mastery-oriented learning (Deci et al., 1981; Chapter 9, p216, Ryan & Deci, 2017; also described in “Relationship Motivation Mini-Theory” of Self-Determination Theory, chapter 12, p293, Ryan & Deci, 2017; Vansteenkiste et al., 2004). An important adaptive interpersonal skill is perspective taking. This is the ability of group members to try to understand each other’s thoughts and motives (Hoever et al., 2012). In mastery orientation, also known as learning goal-orientation (Smither et al., 2005), students are more inclined to want to understand the learning material, to get an inclusive picture. Thus, they will be more attentive to the input of other members, they will be more sensitive to feedback (from peers or leaders). We take the position that when group members are open to thoughts and motives of group members and adopt a masterly-oriented learning attitude, they also have à priori more positive group beliefs and will be more likely to engage in constructive transactive dialogue. Giving autonomy to the group members, expressed by students as “self-control” (Scager et al, 2016), is the main consideration why we chose to test the impact of a self-evaluation procedure in our collaborative projects. We distinguish two sentiments of autonomy in a group: the first deals with the freedom of choices offered by the learning task, to what extent is the task autonomy supportive. Collaborative learning tasks are generally considered autonomy-supportive because they fulfill the three needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Moreover, in collaborative learning tasks, there may be an additional sense of collective competence, where students are confident in the outcome of the task because they feel supported by the competencies of the group members (Kramer & Kursurkar, 2017). The second sentiment of autonomy deals with group beliefs, to what extent is the group internal culture autonomy supportive? In the next page we will deal with group internal culture and the possible loss of autonomy


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