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The Making of a Team

2009 April 5

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.

This year, I attended several workshops on the importance of effective teaming and collaboration.

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?

Along the same lines, I’ve also just finished Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, which talks about two different dimensions of agreement that affects how successful an organization is:

  1. agreement on what people want (the goal), and
  2. 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.

The workshops and the book have really made me realize just how complex team building is – and how much of an impact individual teams can have on the success and movement of any organization.

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

No Responses leave one →
  1. April 5, 2009

    I really enjoy working in teams as ‘two heads are always better than one’. One of the great advantages of having web2.0 tools, is that those teams can be global. The flatclassroom project and the current netgened projects are great examples of this. Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis are an incredible team, each having different characteristics that support and complement each other. The teachers that were on board the netgened project with them (those who worked on it until completion), were also a great team. Steve Madsen worked tirelessly on the wiki and others contributed with their personl skills. As for my role, I just love working with them and learning from them all the time and am happy to complete any work, that I am capable of doing, in order to lessen their huge workload.

  2. April 5, 2009

    Agreed….good teams are hard to come by and I think the three of us make up a pretty good team. :)

  3. April 6, 2009

    Developing your goals in life, takes motivation and ambition. Your determination to achieve set goals depends on you. Success comes from being committed and focused. Sharing in a group as a team to help support and motivate, learning from each other through the process of achieving your success. Visit determined2.com Social Value Network where interactivity promotes successful pursuit of life goals.

  4. April 6, 2009

    @Anne,

    I love the idea of global teams. I wonder if it’s more difficult to develop a common goal and approach to meet that goal when you’re not actually working together – or maybe it’s easier because you find each other based on common interests and beliefs…

    @Jeff,

    Go team!

  5. Cindy B. permalink
    April 6, 2009

    Kim – Congratulations! You’ve gotten me to make my first comment on a blog post. I too belong to an effective, well-balanced team at ISB. The best part of our grade 1 team is that most of our conversations or emails start with, “I thought you could use this . . . “, “I tried . . . and it was great.”, “When you . . . don’t . . . “, “I need some help with . . . “, or “Does anyone have . . .” We all feel safe and secure enough with each other that we are always willing to share our successes and our failures so that we can help each other and improve our students’ learning. I am incredibly thankful for the remarkable people that I work with on my team and thank them for making me a better educator.

  6. April 9, 2009

    @Cindy B,

    Excellent! I’m so proud that your first comment is here :) The grade 1 team at ISB is definitely a superpower – you guys should be running teaming workshops here!

  7. Keishla permalink
    May 20, 2009

    I agree that effective teams are important. This year, teaming was an issue. At my campus we had a really high functioning team that was very collaborative and full of ideas. This year, we had a change in leadership, and it seemed that our new leader was more about “his” ideas than recognizing the flow of ideas from all. It really disrupted things. I think he is aware of his mistake (while he has not verbally said so), but it really harmed the dynamic of our group. I wish our district would change the title to team FACILITATOR instead of team LEADER.

  8. May 27, 2009

    @Keishla,

    It’s amazing how just one person can change the dynamics of an entire group (for good or for bad). I totally agree that the term facilitator is much more inclusive…

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Take Your Faculty SpeedGeeking! | always learning
  2. The Making of a Team | always learning « Corporate Team Building Program
  3. Why Conference? | always learning
  4. Langwitches » links for 2009-05-19

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