I have always felt that working with a team was a benefit. I believe today it is a requirement. The complexity of desired outcomes we are looking to produce can no longer be accomplished with the skills and resources of an individual. School heads and administrators need to function as leaders of highly effective teams and support their leaders in building quality teams across the campus and community.
John Maxwell’s (2001), The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, states that teams:
- Involve more people, thus more resources, ideas, and energy than would an individual.
- Maximize a leader’s potential and minimize weaknesses.
- Decrease a leader’s exposure.
- Provide multiple perspectives on how to meet a goal and thus create several alternatives.
- Share credit for victories and the blame for losses, creating humility and authentic community.
- Keep leaders accountable for the goal. Individuals can change goals without accountability.
- Can simply do more than an individual.
I was conducting a workshop for international school heads around leading teams when about 90 minutes into the session a head yelled out, “Oh no! My leadership team isn’t a team!” As the laughter around the room subsided, there was a realization that the head had not intended to be humorous but had shared a sudden insight out loud. My finding is that many educators have not had the team indoctrination that I experienced as I entered the education field. Most educators have not really had team experiences in their work in schools.
I am working with two schools’ administrative teams that are gathering input from the staff to guide the administrators’ individual professional growth plans as well as the plans for increasing their leadership team’s effectiveness. In these cases, how well do the principal and the two assistant-principals function as a team? I applaud the administrators taking part in this process. Modeling the vulnerability to request feedback for personal growth is great for the staff to experience. Secondly, exhibiting that “team” is crucial in meeting high expectations is important when we are asking teachers to be members of high functioning PLCs.
The principals selected 12 members representing the staff, including counselors and secretaries, whom I interviewed along with interviewing the administrators. This note was provided to participants prior to my contacting them for the interview.
Our administrative team is engaging in a process with Steve Barkley to gather input for shaping our individual and collective leadership goals and plans. Steve will be interviewing selected members of the staff (Skype or phone – approximately 30 minutes) to identify patterns that indicate strengths and areas for development. Conversations with Steve are confidential with no individual comments being identified or shared. Patterns that emerge will be shared with the individual administrator and those focused on the leadership team will be shared collectively. You are requested to take part in an interview. Your thoughtful and candid participation will be valued by the administrative team, as we model the value of seeking feedback for continuous growth. You will be contacted soon to schedule the interview with Steve. Efforts are underway to have the results for the administrators soon so your understanding in scheduling is appreciated.
Here are the questions I used in the interviews:
(They were not given to participants in advance as I find spontaneity of responses is valuable.)
- What would you identify as the principal’s leadership strengths regarding working with: Staff, Students, Community? What one or two areas of leadership might the principal develop to enhance his/her positive impact on the school?
- Looking at the role of assistant principal, what would you identify as leadership strengths regarding working with: Staff, Students, Community? What one or two areas of leadership might be developed to enhance his/her positive impact on the school?
- Identify a time or issue where you saw the leadership team collectively execute successfully. What do you think supported their success? Identify a time where you saw collective leadership missing or coming up short. What do you think was missing?
- What do you identify as important elements in the Instructional Coach’s role in supporting the leadership team’s continuous school improvement efforts?
- Anything you’d like to add to support the leadership team’s efforts.
My debriefing sessions with the leadership teams revolved around conscious practices that help a team communicate understanding with each other and illustrate for the staff that teaming is a leadership value and practice. One session led to these questions for the leadership team to use for consciously “checking in”. One question used to start a team meeting or for discussion as the team walked the halls can create the flow of communication critical to deepening teamwork.
- I wish the two of you had been with me when________________ because ___________________.
- Share a question that a staff member asked, or a statement made, that left you unsure how to respond.
- Where did you notice one of the other team members “shining” with his/her skills?
- What was a V8 moment—I could have… or I should have… (If you are too young to know the V8 commercial, it’s here.)
- I could use some help figuring out__________________.
- What feedback do you have regarding your leadership team’s teamwork? How can you gather additional feedback?