Leading With Teams - Steve Barkley

Leading With Teams

I just completed two presentations around the topic of Leading with Teams. One was with a high school teacher leadership group where we examined the role and importance of teams from teachers teaching the same course, to departments, to the concept of the whole school functioning as a team. The other was with K12 teacher leaders and administrators who examined how closely the school leadership team functioned as a team and how as leaders they can best support smaller department or grade level teams.

I began the presentations with an explanation of Margaret Wheatley’s focus points for effective organizations: (A Simpler Way)

Flow of information throughout the team

Rich and diverse relationships among the team members and with the broader community

A common vision that unites the team


When the three elements of information flow, relationships, and vision are present the payoff is creativity that produces ideas and possibilities to advance toward the goals of the team. Experimentation and risk taking with the new ideas produces new information or relationships and/or a tightened or broaden vision; pushing the team to a new idea for continuous improvement or transformation.

So leaders and their teams should be examining structures and practices that promote:

 Information flow– An example would be planning for vertical PLC meetings.

The building of rich and diverse relationships– Leaders could establish cross-curricular peer coaching opportunities.

Common mission/vision- Leaders create continuous conversations at faculty meetings around important beliefs and values.

The second model I used for exploring building teams was Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.


I looked at the dysfunctions he identified and reframed them as actions for leaders to take to build the effectiveness of teams.


Building Trust–  I think knowing each other is the initial step in building trust into a team. Structuring purposeful opportunities for sharing oneself and listening to others is a start. Lencioni states that if trust is present team members will ask for help, accept questions from each other, and risk offering feedback to colleagues. As a new school year begins and some staff members are new to the school what purposeful actions are leaders taking to increase “knowing”?

Work through Conflicts—Communications skills are needed for working through conflicts. Listening to each other and informing people with differing opinions that you have heard and understand their views is helpful. I recommend practicing open questions and paraphrasing in structured ways. A facilitator can remind teams to consciously use these skills when conflicting views emerge.

 Establishing Willingness to Make Commitments— When trust has been built through knowing each other’s commitment to the team’s vision and when communication has caused all options to be explored, members are willing to commit to a plan even when it is not their personal first choice.  “They can support a decision without knowing for sure it will work, because it represents the group’s best thinking.” (Lencioni -209)

Building in Accountability—“Members of great teams improve their relationships by holding one another accountable, thus demonstrating that they respect each other and have high expectations for one another’s performance.”(Lencioni-213) I recommend that a recorder keep track of tasks that individuals agree to carry out and that team meetings end with a review of commitments and that notes are sent out as a follow up.

Staying Focused on Results— Teams frequently find that the urgent and “not so important to our results” issues can fill a meeting’s agenda rather quickly. It’s critical that team leaders find opportunities to bring reminders about our results into the conversation often.  A school leader in a workshop shared his realization that by the middle of October he and his leadership team had drifted away from a results focus that they had set in August. Day to day demands had clouded the focus.

I encouraged each group to identify the leader behaviors that would impact team member behaviors generating increased team effectiveness.

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