Teamwork matters


For the past decade or longer “teamwork,” “collaboration,” and “professional learning communities” have been advocated by almost every knowledgable person who favors continuous improvement in teaching and learning.

It simply makes sense that a school community is stronger when its members work together.

While creating truly interdependent teams is demanding, it is an essential responsibility for school leaders who desire quality teaching for all students every day.

Building strong teams is demanding because many teachers were either attracted to teaching because of its perceived independence or were hired into schools where they seldom worked with other adults.

An important first step for leaders who wish to strengthen teamwork is creating clarity within the school community about the qualities that distinguish a team from other groups, such as departments or committees, which may or may not function as teams.

Here’s a post that addresses this confusion by providing a rubric used by the Rush-Henrietta Schools in New York that lists four key characteristics of teamwork: clarity of purpose, accountability, effective team structures, and trust.

“‘Each key characteristic,’ the rubric explains, ‘is defined by a number of indicators. For instance, “effective team structures” includes as indicators “use protocols to help guide the group work and provide a consistent framework’ and ‘has agreements in place that are clear, purposeful, and understood.” ‘Accountability’ asks team members to be ‘committed to decisions and plans of actions’ and asks them to ‘hold one another accountable for delivering against the plans agreed to and feels a sense of obligation to the team for its progress.’”

Teamwork requires that productive relationships not only be developed but that they be sustained over time in the face of the predictable challenges that confront all long-term relationships.

In a post on managing inevitable dips in relationships I observed that:

“Things start out strong, with everyone seemingly committed and energized, only to have that commitment and energy fall off over time.”

In that post I proposed “five fundamental questions” that teams should ask and answer if they are to perform well over time. I encourage you to think deeply about your responses to those questions.

Leaders obviously play a key role in developing supportive and productive relationships. In a post on that subject, I noted:

“Strong teams are the foundation of school cultures infused with interpersonal accountability, experimentation, and the continuous improvement of teaching and learning. Effective teamwork requires that leaders do three things:

1. Believe in the importance of teamwork. Teamwork is based on the assumption that the school community can accomplish more when its members work together than alone. If leaders don’t truly believe that teams are the building blocks of continuous improvement, “teamwork” will be perfunctory, at best.

2. Have a deep understanding of the attributes of effective teamwork. Strong teamwork begins with principals and teacher leaders understanding the qualities that distinguish effective from ineffective teams and from other task-related groups in schools.

3. Have a plan to continuously improve the functioning of teams. Planning begins with a clear sense of the current functioning of each team and of its next level of development.”

You can see more posts about teamwork here.

2 Responses to “Teamwork matters”

  1. 1 geoffrey smith August 20, 2015 at 2:50 am

    This post really speaks to me. I have just taken up a new position as HS Principal in a new school and working hard to build the heads of department / leadership team. Speaking of teams, here’s a fascinating article about the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team . I came across it the other day.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks August 20, 2015 at 7:10 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Geoffrey, and for your recommendation of a very interesting article. It certainly has stimulated my thinking regarding the role of leaders’ humility in a high-performance culture.

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