Thursday, April 12, 2018

Teams - high functioning or dysfunctioning?

At the recent NESA Conference I did 2 days of workshops with Fran Prolman and Gail Seay.  On day 2 of these workshops we talked about how vulnerable connections build team dynamics.  Fran talked about building voice and choice among adults and how team building is based on trust, which involves bonding and knowing each other before you have to have difficult conversations.  One of the things she also shared with us was the 5 dysfunctions of teams which was based on the work of Patrick Lencioni (see diagram below).

Lencioni writes that the largest team problem, invulnerability, is a sign of a lack of trust.  Without trust no team member is willing to interact with each other.  It's only when a team is willing to be vulnerable, supportive, honest and loyal to each other that real teamwork can begin.

Moving up the pyramid, the next big issue for teams is that there is often an emphasis on harmony - however this becomes artificial harmony because dysfunctional teams are afraid of conflict (in other words, when considering the team phases of forming-storming-norming-performing outlined by Bruce Tuckman, these teams get stuck on the forming stage which is superficial and non-productive.

Further up the pyramid is ambiguity, caused by a lack of commitment, clarity and focus which also impacts productiveness as team members all have different interpretations of what needs to be done.  In these dysfunctional teams the members are all going in different directions.

Another aspect of dysfunctional teams is low standards and a lack of accountability.  In these teams the members often blame each other or external factors for their lack of success.  In these teams there are low expectations and poor quality work.

Finally some team members are caught up in their own egos and are not interested in results, or in reflecting on ways to improve.  In these teams they are more concerned with perceptions than embracing reality.

Now we know that there is a direct correlation between adult interaction and student achievement and it's because of this that teamwork is crucial to the success of any school.  The effectiveness of teams, be it grade level or subject teams, have a tremendous impact on how students learn and achieve.  In high functioning teams the members are motivated as they are working towards a common goal - and this motivation leads to synergy, support and loyalty.  Efficiency improves as members volunteer to take on various roles within the team, dividing up tasks to meet the deadlines and building on everyone's strengths.  We learn more through collaboration, and so teamwork expands our intellectual capacity as we consider diverse opinions and viewpoints.  Also, as we establish norms of respectful collaboration, listing to all the voices around the table, our interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence increases, fostering the feeling of connection.

In Fran's book, Building Your Instructional Leadership, she provides a number of suggestions for improving the functioning of teams in schools.  These include:
  • Creating time when teams can meet regularly
  • Providing structures and protocols to help teams focus on the work
  • Giving time for reflection
  • Clarifying roles within the team
  • Empowering each member to contribute and make decisions
  • Building capabilities
  • Providing recognition and reward for success
  • Encouraging risk-taking and experimentation

Do these suggestions resonate with you in your context?  What does successful team work look like in your school?

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