Teams of teachers can do amazing things together. Sometimes, however, they don’t.
In my work supporting leaders in schools, “teams gone wild” is a frequent situation that I’m often asked about by principals and assistant principals. This week at Principal Matters! we’ve examined teacher teams and specifically teacher-leaders. Today, our focus is on diagnosing the dysfunctional team.
So the question at hand is , “why do some teams work well while others don’t?” Here are some things to consider as you evaluate the efficacy of your teams.
Why Is My Teacher Team Not Working Well?
- The Leader. Pardon the obvious irony here, but this is always the first place to look if things aren’t going well. 🙂 (We are here for the truth! Don’t be offended). If the team isn’t functioning as it ought to be, is that a function of the team’s leadership? In yesterday’s column, we looked at seven things that principals can do to help teacher-leaders lead effectively. Often, if you can review the process of how your T-L is leading the team, you might find possible solutions. It could be in the style in which your T-L is directing the action. Remember, this isn’t about blame or fault, but it is about developing practical solutions. This is another reason to have ongoing leadership development with your T-L; it provides a window of opportunity when you’re needed to consult.
- The Team. It might be the team. Sometimes teams (teams in general as well as teacher teams) just aren’t a good mix. As the principal of the school, it’s important to think of the composition of your teams. Will the team members collectively be greater together than they are individually? Are the team members a good combination that will work together? As you plan your assignments for each school year, it’s important to think about whether your team members will gel or not. There are variety of personality trait quizzes that you can use to get a feel for who your teachers really are (if you don’t know already). One of the best ways to have a highly functioning team is to begin with a team whose members complement one another. If it is the team, then you may have to take a more active role to shape their destiny for the remainder of the year until such time you can change assignments.
- The Obstinate One. Ancient proverb: “One bad apple spoils the barrel.” (Not sure how we got our bananas and bunches mixed in with apples and barrels, but “apple.. and… barrel” is the official verbiage.) That said, sometimes the team’s issues aren’t the leader, and not the team as a whole, but they’re that one person. It’s interesting to look at your faculty members and think about what other roles they can play. You have some teachers who would be great anywhere… and you have some that can mess up the dynamics on most any team. They may or may not be a good classroom teacher individually (some of the people playing these roles are) but they don’t get along well with colleagues. Just as you do with your teachers and their students, it’s better for your T-L to work to improve the situation (with your coaching and support). It establishes their authority with the team and allows them to build the relationship. If that doesn’t work, you have to get involved and do what’s necessary to get them on board. (that’s a topic for a whole column waiting to happen in the future..)
- Hayfields and McCoys. Sometimes a team doesn’t work well and its not the leader, not the team, and not even the roadblock person. It’s a turf war going on. Sometimes it’s two people; sometimes sides are drawn and nearly everyone is at odds. I always am interested when I ask teachers about their school and they tell me “we’re like a family here!” That can be good, but sometimes… it can mean they’re like a family. The truth is this: over the course of a year, and for some teams over the course of multiple years, nearly every team is bound to have some ebb and flow. We have it within our families, so if it’s truly like a family that’s what you may get. If you can drive your folks back into the notion of being a team of professionals, you may be able to recapture their mental model of what they’re doing. However, if feuds are more than temporary, they can shut down the success of the team. It’s worth monitoring.
- You. It’s been my experience that teachers and students will focus on and do well in areas that are established as important to the school. You need for teachers to be able to work together without you there all of the time (it’s just impossible for you to be everywhere all of the time and you need to build capacity). What you must do is maintain appreciation, support, and attention to their efforts as a team. Recognize what people do in teams and they’ll do it well. Assign them, give them a T-L and forget about them? That’s the recipe for non-functioning teams. You have a lot of influence on whether teams will work well or not. They have to go through the learning process together on how to be a good team. If you fly in on your magic carpet and fix everything all of the time, that may lead to learned helplessness rather than the capacity to lead that it’s supposed to get to. Always measure your response.
Coming up next week (after our regular weekend columns), we’ll look more into teams and move from today’s diagnosis to some suggested cures and preventions for what might ail your team. Have a wonderful weekend!