Why Teams? - Steve Barkley

Why Teams?

I am in the midst of prepping for two upcoming presentations where I have been asked to address the purposes of creating team cultures and structures in schools. Those of you who have been in workshops of mine know that I did all my teaching in team settings and was surprised in the 80’s as I began working with educators in training and consulting to find that very few have had any experiences with real teams. As I have written earlier most have experienced working in franchise settings called teams. (Earlier blogs here  and here and a video here)

My preparation has me rereading John Maxwell’s The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork. He cites writing by C. Gene Wilkes who asserts the historical importance of teams. (Page 5)

Teams involve more people, thus more resources, ideas, and energy than would an individual.

As a teacher this was an enormous value that I found working on a team. At times that my energy was low, it was common for a team mate to pick up the slack. Brainstorming possibilities with others always lead to a longer list of options than I would think of on my own. I always appreciated a colleague who would work with a student with whom my approach wasn’t succeeding.

Team Building made of Spelling Blocks Isolated on a White Background

Teams maximize a leader’s potential and minimize her weaknesses.

Whether leading a school, a committee, or a classroom, my weaknesses are often covered by a colleague. My team teachers always noticed things that my weakness or blind spot had me missing. Because I am working on a team I can spend more time working in my areas of strength which has valuable payoff.

Leaders are more exposed as individuals.

Team members make sure that leaders receive the “bad news”. When a leader’s idea or behavior is seen as a negative by silent staff members, problems build under the surface. Members of the leader’s team bring the bad news to the table so that it can be addressed. There needs to be a history of the “messenger never being shot” to build the critical open communication.

Teams provide multiple perspectives on how to meet a goal and thus create several alternatives.

Differences among team members can require extra patience and concessions at times, but in the long run produce better results. When students’ needs or parent and teacher responses to decisions are seen through different perspectives before actions are taken, we tend to make better initial decisions. This is important to remember when feeling frustrated that a team decision is taking longer than if you were working as an individual.

Teams share credit for victories and the blame for losses, creating humility and authentic community.

Celebration is important in gaining future perseverance. Successes build the belief that when facing a future struggle, we will eventually succeed. It is difficult to celebrate alone. Effective team leaders continually bring members together to recognize the collective input that created an isolated success. I know a school district that brings all teachers to high school graduation in order to celebrate. Primary teachers are recognized for the role they played in the graduates’ accomplishments.

Because team members share the “blame” when our results come up short, we are often willing to take greater risks together than we would alone. That means accepting greater challenges in the goals we set. This can have great benefits for our students.

Teamwork concept

Teams keep leaders accountable for the goal. Individuals can change goals without accountability.

Accountability is an item I often find missing when groups or organizations are not achieving their desired results. It’s evident in districts when principals are leading schools individually rather than as members of a district administrative team. It’s missing in PLCs when teachers give silence during a meeting where a decision is agreed to and then return to their classrooms and not follow through. Highly effective teachers create classroom teams where students hold each other as well as themselves accountable for learning outcomes.

Teams can simply do more than an individual.

Our students deserve our best so therefore they deserve our commitment to the teams that can serve them best. When we keep our goal of maximizing student learning as our focus, working through any “team issues” becomes a requirement.

I’m going to use Wilke’s points regarding the importance of teams to lead some groups through an exploration of the value of teams and an assessment of their commitment to build and strengthen school teams to serve students. Any thoughts about where you may want to hold a similar conversation?

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