Monday, June 29, 2015

Making Team Differences Work

As is typical this time of year, I am behind in my periodical reading. With great interest, I read Beth Strathman's article, 'Making Team Differences Work" from April's Educational Leadership. It aligns neatly with the other leadership pieces that I have recently read. Her article highlights four symptoms of group dysfunction and then looks at how to address them.

My thoughts
Mired in confusion
Identify and communicate essential information:
·         Group’s purpose
·         Expected outcome/deliverables
·         Skills of each individual (why are you here?)
·         Timeline
·         Groups standards
·         Decision-making process
No question, if the group doesn’t know why it is together there is little opportunity for success.
I was part of a PLC that was given a title- secondary math- but no goal. At our first meeting we needed to set a purpose and goal. Fortunately, I was with some people who were motivated to be successful and we were able to set a goal, calendar and deliverable. It would have been much smoother if this had been set up prior to our meeting.
Things get personal
Establish and enforce group norms such as:
·         Time of meeting
·         Expectations for punctuality
·         Location of meetings
·         Cell phone use
·         Avoid restating what has been said
·         “yes and” technique
·         Avoid judgments- focus on facts
I love that she addressed the avoid restating issue. This is a pet peeve of mine. If it has been said, you can use the “yes, and…” idea rather than going over the same ground again. Further, if someone arrives late, it is disrespectful of everyone else to recap what he missed. Minutes can be read or catching up with the leader of a team partner can be used.
Off-line discussions
Hold group members accountable for bringing up issues at meetings. Gossip and hurt feelings get shared with some, but not all, if each member is not working to avoid this behavior. Leading questions like, “What preparations do you need, so you can bring this up at our next meeting?” can positively divert these discussions.
In PTA we talk about parking lot discussions. The meeting ends, some people gather in the lot and share their dismay over a person or issue or concern. People need to be safe- trust that their disagreements, self or concerns will not be discarded, ignored or ridiculed. (Back to the personal comments above.)
Lackluster discussions leave things undecided
Dig deeper and highlight dissenting viewpoints. Encourage devil’s advocate thinking to be sure to address all aspect of a decision.
This one flows from the previous ones. Good teams have hearty debate. They do not have mutual agreement or consensus all the time. They need to think about the other side of the coin and be sure .they address those concerns. It helps build buy in.

When school committees fail to appreciate the true value of diverse teams, they reduce their effectiveness. When people squelch debate, they breed unrest. When teams lack purpose, they will lack commitment. We can create effective teams that improve education, but we must teach the team work skills that will lead us there. Many people avoid conflict and decision-making, but these are the essence of good choices and direction. We need to embrace them. Ms. Strathman's article does a great job of explaining some critical components of team work. It would be great reading for a group to help them establish a successful working relationship.

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