Sometimes it is worth stating the obvious, giving time and thought to what we easily take for granted. In doing so we name the things we value most and give them the value they deserve. The value of teams is one such ideal, we know that teams have value, we probably even know what it feels like to be a part of a great team but too often we take this feeling as understood and don’t stop to consider what makes it worth chasing.
Presently I have the pleasure of working with a great team of teachers within a strong Junior School. A team of teachers who inspires and challenges each other towards success and growth. We are a core group of five teachers with strong connections to a team of amazing specialists who work together to prepare our Year Six students for the challenges of Senior School while ensuring the students' experience of their final year in the junior School is memorable. We are a diverse set of individuals with varied backgrounds, strengths, interests and personalities. As a team we are able to act as a cohesive unit with a shared understanding that allows us to take differing patch to the same destination.
Collectively we are united in a love of learning. We each enjoy the opportunities that new situations bring to us and we know that we have much to learn. We also understand that we each have things that we can teach each other and this ensures a mutual respect that is genuine. This love of learning and valuing of our collective wisdom is evident in our approach to problem solving and planning. No one person has the answer, no one voice need dominate, the best answer is the one that emerges in response to the problem. Daniel Wilson, of Harvard describes this as ‘Emergent Leadership’ where the wisdom of the group is the key to solving complex problems. This property of an effective team is perhaps the one most frequently missing and one that is most required if education is to transform itself to meet the challenges of a post-industrial revolution era.
As a team we also understand that there is a job to be done and that it can be no single person’s responsibility to do it. A week at camp showed how this value within a team can triumph even when things don’t quite follow the game plan. Working within a team where everyone is accountable and everyone understands the importance of their actions allows for distributed leadership to take hold. Tasks no longer need be assigned because the team will identify the needs and take the appropriate actions. For this to happen every member of the team needs to have agency to take action and not feel they need to play a game of 'guess what the boss wants’. Agency within teams is critical for their success.
The culture of a great team is infectious and will be naturally inclusive of new members. For our camp the team grew from five to over twenty and yet the culture of the core team remained and spread. Our enthusiasm caught on and the team was able to incorporate new members without effort because we all knew where we were going and how we would get there. Culture triumphs policy and a strong team culture based on trust and respect is supreme.
When working in a great team, leadership can almost disappear. Observe a group of people working together and if it is clear who is in charge you are most likely watching a manager at work. In great teams where the value of every member is equally respected the leadership is distributed, the team is able to function towards its goal with little direction and the results are phenomenal. With a great team the productivity will far exceed what a well managed team can ever hope to produce as every individual contributes their very best and no one is waiting for the next set of instructions.
Great teams value each others success and share responsibility for mistakes. Effective teams understand that mistakes happen as a part of the learning process and the only way to avoid them is to never try anything new; clearly not a viable option. Great teams also acknowledge the success of individuals and understand that when a team member achieves success it reflects well on the whole team. If your team members are doing well it is a sure sign of a healthy team, celebrate the success.
Effective teams understand that team members have lives beyond the team. Empathy and understanding are the cornerstones of great teams and supporting each other with the challenges that life throws your way is essential. Every team member will have differing needs and understanding that and respecting the complexity of our modern lives allows teams to be supportive of each other beyond the confines of the workplace. It is not always about the job, sometimes a team needs time to stop and talk about life, the conflicts the craziness and the things that make us human.
Lastly and perhaps most difficult, teams build the capacity of their members and that means sometimes creating the conditions that allow team members to move on to new and bigger challenges. Learning and personal growth is important and part of the process that all tams go through and the eventual result is that team membership will change as members seek new experiences and challenges beyond the team or their present situation. In a great team the need for a change of scenery is lessened by the opportunities inherent to the teams functioning but building the capacity of individuals members and the collective capacity of the team are essential elements.
If you are part of a great team cherish it and take the time to name and value what makes it great. Amazing teams do not happen by accident and maintaining their spirit is the responsibility of every member.
By Nigel Coutts