Last weekend I attended (and presented at) the East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools (EARCOS) Teacher’s Conference (ETC). This is the second year in a row I’ve attended this conference and I absolutely love the opportunity to network with other teachers in the region. This time around the conference was in beautiful Malaysian Borneo – not exactly the most convenient location to get to, but quite relaxing once we arrived.
As a technology facilitator, I often find myself working with a variety of teams across all grade levels and subject areas. I rarely do anything entirely alone and spend most of my time at work collaborating with at least one other colleague – whether it’s co-planning a project, supporting a team in developing a unit, or planning a faculty meeting – teaming is a huge part of my job. These sessions were a perfect opportunity for me to get a better picture of what makes teams work well (or not so well in the case of the “10 Symptoms of Dysfunctional Teams” session).
A few things that stood out for me during the sessions were:
- “As educators we overestimate the amount of change we can effect in one school year, and we underestimate the amount of change we can effect in three” – Larry Keeley
- If you don’t have a goal, you’re not a team.
- The primary goal of a team leader is to build trust. Actions speak louder than words and creating trust goes on for years, one action can destroy years of trust-building.
- Change must be thoughtful, deliberate and systematic, and planned with the end in mind, following the Understanding by Design process of curriculum planning.
- Teams must engage in healthy debate, dialogue, and professional discussion.
- One of the most important things a team can have to function properly is Essential Agreements that have been discussed, agreed upon, and revisited regularly. Examples of essential agreements that are currently working in other international schools: be fully present – don’t do anything else during the meeting; keep everything confidential (unless the group decides not to); start on time; minutes of the meeting will be within 24 hours; agendas will be given 24 hours before; monitor your own talk time; establish a shared vocabulary; it’s OK to disagree.
In all of the sessions, we talked a lot about different types of teams, and the fact that most people feel the best team they’ve experienced is usually a sports team – because they have such a clear, common goal. I wonder, how often do teams really define (and believe in) a common goal at work the way they would on a sports team?
- agreement on what people want (the goal), and
- agreement on the cause and effect (how to reach the goal)
So, even if we agree on what we want (improved student learning), but we don’t agree on how we can achieve that goal, we’re never going to get there.
There are so many elements, layers and personalities that need to be balanced in order to create an effective team. A team needs visionary people to create and advocate for goals, organized people to forge consensus on methods for achieving those goals, and thoughtful and sensitive people to make sure that everyone is heard and feels valued. Creating an effective team is much harder than I’d previously thought, and teamwork can be incredibly complex.
This all makes me appreciate just how lucky I am to be working on a team with Jeff and Tara here at ISB. We complement each other’s abilities and interests in a way that I think balances many of these elements. We have someone who’s good at envisioning the future (Jeff), someone who’s good at meeting individual needs and understanding people’s feelings and anxieties (Tara), and someone who’s good at organizing and managing steps toward progress (me). Between the three of us, I really believe we can tackle any task successfully.
It’s such a pleasure to work with Jeff and Tara not because we always agree on everything, but because we have an amazing dynamic that allows the group as a whole to take steps forward. It’s the three of us together that makes us so much more effective than even the brightest among us, which reminds me of another book I’m reading, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.
What successful teams have you worked on? Why do you think they were so successful? What elements need to be in place, or balanced? How can we work to create positive, productive environments in existing teams which for one reason or another don’t have this balance?
Human Pyramid by chooyutshing