Podcast: Does Your Group Want to Be a Team? - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Does Your Group Want to Be a Team?

Does Your Group Want to Be a Team?

The word “team” is frequently used in schools to describe various groupings of people that are working under different understandings of what the relationships among group members should be and what is required of group members. Teams are accountable for the collective performance and work toward a common goal and shared rewards.

Listen to the podcast with Chad Dumas here.
Find Chad’s Book, “Put the C back in PLC” here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:00.650] – Steve [Intro]

Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers, in turn, model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. It’s thanks for listening. I’m thrilled you’re here.


[00:00:34.500] – Steve

Does your group want to be a team? The word team is frequently used in schools to describe various groupings of people that are working under different understandings of what their relationships are with each other and what is required by their membership within the group. I frequently ask the staff at a school that I’m working with to describe the degree to which they function as a team and it’s quite common that I’ll get a response that they report having rather strong teams, and then I ask them for indicators of what illustrates the strength of their teams. On one occasion, a teacher responded that they share everything, and that was her indicator of them being a strong team. And that led me to write a blog about sharing versus teaming. Here’s definitions I found for the two terms: sharing – to have or use something at the same time as someone else; to divide food, money, goods, et cetera, and give part of it to someone else. If two or more people share an activity, they each do some of it. If two or more people or things share a feeling, a quality or experience, they both are all are having the same quality feeling or experience.


[00:02:13.620] – Steve

And to tell someone else about your thoughts or feelings is another definition for sharing. Now, here’s the definition I found for team: a group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job or project. Team members, one, operate with a high degree of interdependence. Two, share authority and responsibility for self management. Three, are accountable for collective performance and four, work toward a common goal and shared rewards. A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of the individual members. That’s a pretty big difference. Sharing resources, ideas, even time, are great things to do as the relationships of a group develop. But the key to being a team is sharing accountability for a common goal. That’s why most athletic teams serve as an example of teaming. Strong individual performances while we lose the game misses the goal. One thing about competition is that it can give a group a common goal. It’s why some groups function as a team when a crisis arises – survival is the common goal. Often, though, when the crisis is over, the teaming decreases.


[00:04:01.140] – Steve

My finding is that what most schools consider team meetings are really functioning as franchise meetings. Everyone who owns a fifth grade class comes to the meeting once a week, exchanges, tips and strategies and perhaps cooperates to get work done. After the meeting, they leave with accountability for their single class of students. If the fifth grade team is a team, then each member is accountable for the success of each fifth grade student. When the chemistry teacher has accountability for biology students success, the science department is a team. Effective teaming is hard work and it requires skills and understanding that most educators haven’t been trained or coached in. Listen in on the following conversation I had with Chad Dumas, the author of, “Let’s Put the C Back in PLCs,” where he and I discuss some of the ways to support teaming.


[00:05:13.260] – Steve

The word that I like to use in my work with PLCs is team. My early teaching background had me spend a lot of time in teams. But when I got out and began working with most educators, I realized that that word was being used across schools, but the reality is most teachers had never actually experienced being on a team. I pulled the word franchise as what they were mostly doing. I labeled it they were going to franchise meetings. So each of the teachers owned a second grade, they met once a week and exchanged tips and strategies, then went back and ran their own franchise. It was surprising for me to discover that a real sense of team where you have joint responsibility for outcomes, was pretty foreign.


[00:06:05.500] – Chad

Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of aspects to that. Partly because we are trained in isolation from each other when we’re at university or college level. We’re not trained how to really collaborate with each other and work as teams. And I think you’re absolutely right that this idea of what is a team? How do we, as school leaders and coaches, help facilitate teaming? What are nonverbal skills that can be really powerful in helping this? What are some of the structures and processes and protocols that can facilitate creating a team? It’s far more than, hey, there’s the three of us, we get together every Tuesday at 10:00.


[00:06:52.220] – Steve

To ask teachers to be part of a PLC when they haven’t had that background or training, or to ask building administrators to be responsible for having valuable PLCs when they haven’t had itm it’s a pretty far stretch.


[00:07:06.180] – Chad

Yeah. And two of the elements that I focus on in these ten elements of building a collaborative community, one is, first of all, you have to team effectively. What does a team make? It’s not just a matter of saying, okay, you third grade teachers and special Ed and ELLm you’re going to meet every Tuesday at 10:00. That doesn’t create a team. It creates a structure. But that structure, there’s some elements and it’s like, for instance, size matters. We know that three to five people in a group is like the optimum size. You get more than six, it can work. It’s not that it won’t work, but the need for skillful group members and skillful facilitators increases dramatically when you get over six.


[00:07:46.700] – Steve

I’m laughing. My number is seven.


[00:07:48.670] – Chad



[00:07:49.820] – Steve

I describe at seven, you almost need an outside facilitator.


[00:07:53.510] – Chad

Yeah, I heard the other day, I think it was Peter de Witt said that there was a study done by the NEA or Gallup or somebody, I’m not sure, I can’t remember who it was, but the most hated term in all of education these days is PLC. And what a sad statement of what we have interpreted PLCs to be because we don’t understand how to structure it. And then the second aspect of that is we don’t know how to support them. And so that’s one of the elements as well that I identify is resources have to be allocated. And some of those resources are not just tangible resources like money and time and space and equipment, that’s important. We also have to have intangible resources allocated like building trust. That’s an intangible resource that has to be developed. And having training on protocols and procedures, having expertise in the group both internal and external. And so there’s these elements to make teams effective that I love your analogy of franchise. That it’s not just here you go, 10:00 Tuesdays, you’re going to meet, there’s effective grouping and then allocating the resources to make sure that it’s effective.


[00:09:05.760] – Steve

I think you’ve answered part of my next question, but I want to give you a chance to not leave out anything important here. What would you identify as some of the most important things that administrators and instructional coaches should be doing to tap the true value of having time set aside for PLCs?


[00:09:33.610] – Chad

Yeah. So when I think about – basically, you’re asking like maximizing effectiveness, right? How do we make sure that we’re actually being effective? So my mind goes lots of different places, but some of the first things that come to my mind is I guess there’s three things that come 1st. 1st is an attitude of learning by doing that book knowledge is good. We need book knowledge and we have to apply that knowledge and reflect on it. I think it was John Dewey that said that we don’t learn from our experiences, we learn from reflecting on our experiences. So we have to have the book knowledge 1st. Second of all, we have to apply that book knowledge and have the experience. And then third of all, we need to reflect on that. And so having that attitude of learning by doing is kind of the first thing that comes to my mind. The second thing that comes to my mind in terms of maximizing our effectiveness is really being centered on the idea that relationships are at the center of everything that we do. And for me that comes down to what I call three plus one moves.


[00:10:46.810] – Chad

And the plus one is I maybe should have called it one plus three, but three plus one sounds better. But the plus one is like the context in which we build our relationships. And that is, are we in rapport with each other? Are we having an attitude of dialogue with each other? Where I’m seeking, as Stephen Covey would say, I’m seeking first to understand, then to be understood. And so there’s this overarching plus one of being in rapport with folks. And then three specific moves, if you will, that help build relationship – and that comes from the cognitive coaching world, adaptive schools world, pausing, paraphrasing, and posing questions. And in my experience, when members of a team are engaging in those three specific moves in a context of dialogue and rapport, then the relationships become even more powerful because we’re truly listening to each other. We’re taking time to think about my thinking and inquire instead of responding. So many times we’re in conversations with folks and we’re thinking to respond as opposed to inquire. Or we don’t even think, we just respond. We see that a lot in the body politic of the world, right? Am I paraphrasing?


[00:12:10.640] – Chad

Am I really understanding what you’re saying? Am I paraphrasing so that you can clarify for yourself what you’re thinking? Because many times we’re thinking out loud, right? I mean, we’re coming into a meeting, we haven’t had a chance to think about A, B and C. And so we come in and we spew our stuff all over and powerful groups paraphrase for each other.


[00:12:36.930] – Steve

You’re really labeling there, critical skills you would expect the trained facilitator or the instructional coach to have. And I think I’m hearing we need to develop those skills within the team members so that they use them themselves.


[00:12:50.190] – Chad

Yes, exactly. The most powerful group member is the group members themselves who are skilled. And when group members are skilled in pausing and paraphrasing and posing questions to mediate thinking, then these groups become more effective and more efficacious both. And then the third thing that comes to my mind in terms of helping teams become more effective is the structures and the processes that we put in place to help them become more effective. So things like what are the protocols that we’re using? It’s one thing to bring data to a meeting, it’s another thing to use a protocol to dig into it to maximize our effectiveness in looking at that data or student work. We all bring examples of student work. Well, let’s have a protocol to follow. Do we have agendas that are set up and that are systematic in those processes? Are staff meetings organized in such a way that people know what to expect from staff meeting to staff meeting and it’s not just a surprise? So these types of things, that’s where my mind went in terms of how do we help teams become more effective? Learning by doing the three plus one and making sure we’ve got structures and processes in place to facilitate the work.


[00:14:12.200] – Steve

You can find a link to the entire conversation with Chad in the lead-in to this podcast. Consider the various groups that are meeting together at your school. At which meetings are individuals spending time together without a clear understanding of why they’re together? At which meetings are friendly and often productive franchises that are supporting the individual members doing his or her job after the meeting? And where do you have teams working with shared goals, commitment and accountability to each other for the goals to be met? You might want to share this podcast with your group and discuss the group’s structure and purpose. What value might be gained by functioning more teamlike? Might teams better support student success? I’d be happy to explore franchising and teaming with you further and hear your thoughts and questions. Remember, you can always reach me easily at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.


[00:15:44.590] – Steve [Outro]

Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter at @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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