Critical Issue: Building a Committed Team
ISSUE: Making schools successful takes more than just individual effort - it takes teamwork. Schools are using teams to accomplish many tasks. Teams may work on site-based decisionmaking, curricular reform, implementing new programs, or restructuring. For teamwork to be successful, teams and individual team members need to have clear, shared goals; a sense of commitment; the ability to work together; mutual accountability; access to needed resources and skills; and other elements of effective teams.
While successful teamwork can be rewarding in itself, teamwork should focus on meeting the academic and social needs of all students in the school. Just as the school vision and mission should focus on student learning, team building, team planning, and team developing should be directed toward improving student outcomes.
OVERVIEW: In many schools, teachers work in isolation, administrators try to accomplish tasks alone, and the responsibility of implementating new ideas falls to individuals. Working together in teams often is a more effective way to accomplish important tasks. Teams have many advantages over individuals working in isolation. Teams tend to be better at solving problems, have a higher level of commitment, and include more people who can help implement an idea or plan. Moreover, teams are able to generate energy and interest in new projects.
Both research and practice demonstrate the advantages that teams bring to accomplishing goals. But effective teams do not develop by accident. Teams take time, skills, and knowledge to be successful.
Transformational leadership skills can help in developing such high-performing teams. Leaders of school transformation must be able to inspire, motivate, and support teams. Engaged and high-performing teams thrive in a "learning organization," where colleagues support each other in learning, risk-taking, innovation, and change (Senge, 1990).
Effective team functioning requires finding time, selecting team members, empowering team members, providing training in relevant skills and knowledge, developing shared goals, and facilitating team functioning - particularly in the early stages of the team's work.
• Obtain support, training, and information on shared decisionmaking, perhaps by contacting organizations that work with schools in developing teams.
• Learn about the importance of teams in the success of organizations by reading about how teams are more effective than individuals.
• Discuss how the team is functioning and learn about the functions of teams in schools by reading about programs that work (Maeroff, 1993).
• Teams can become more efficient, with less conflict and more successful decisionmaking, by participating in training for effective team building.
• To overcome individuals' resistance to working together, team members should learn from other successful teams, perhaps by viewing videotapes on effective teamwork or reading about another team's accomplishments.
• Learn how collaboration and a shared culture can support teamwork.
• Teams also can become more self-aware and successful by learning about the stages of team development, the positive and negative roles that can exist in teams, team problem finding and problem solving (Yukl, 1989), and methods for avoiding and resolving conflict.
• The school staff and administration may not have the skills, knowledge, and capacities for effective teamwork.
The team may not share clear goals or purposes, and therefore defining specific goals will be important.
• Hargreaves, Fullan, and others (cited in Fullan, 1993) note that teams often face issues that can decrease the effectiveness of the team and specifically its ability to make decisions: (1) the time trade-offs in decisionmaking (team decisionmaking can take time away from working directly on classroom planning, curriculum, and instructional activities), (2) problems of "groupthink" and pressure to conform, and (3) the potential for increased conflict over decisionmaking.
• Without adequate team training and preparation, it is unlikely that team(s) will work effectively to develop and realize a shared vision.
• Katzenbach and Smith (1993) list the following requirements for building effective teams:
1. Teams must be small enough in the number of members.
2. Members must have adequate levels of complementary skills.
3. The team must have a truly meaningful purpose.
4. The team must have a specific goal or goals.
5. The team and its members must establish a clear approach to the team's work.
6. Members must have a sense of mutual accountability.
• Without team leadership (as opposed to traditional top-down leadership), teams will be unproductive.
Another potential barrier is individual resistance to working in teams
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Few people would deny that teams can be highly effective. But some believe that teams must face enormous obstacles before they can become effective in schools. Some teachers have never worked on teams and actually became teachers so that they could work independently. In other cases, staff and administrators have not been trained to cope with the special challenges of working in teams and practicing shared decisionmaking.