Finding the right people, building the right team by @BST_Principal

Some thoughts....

As we all embark on the new school year (at least in the Northern hemisphere) it is all too easy to find ourselves focusing on the nuts and bolts of the School Improvement Plan and on the minutiae of systems and routines. I don’t think it does any harm to be reminded that excellent schools – and other successful organisations – are built on the efforts of good people working effectively together towards the attainment of shared goals.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Brian Christian and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Some questions to ask ourselves, some thoughts to consider as we set out to build or to bolster our teams for the challenges of the year ahead…

  • Transparent vision

Are we all on the same page? Are we all aiming at the same targets? Are we sure about that? The vision has to be more than a dream: buy-in will certainly depend on a shared sense of the feasibility of eventual achievement. For Vision read Strategic Intent.

  • Clear priorities

Do we know what these are? Does anyone else? While the vision might focus on quite distant goals or offer broad-brush objectives, the key stepping stones towards those objectives have to be clearly identified and narrowly defined. Each step should be plotted as accurately as possible on a detailed timeline.

  • Supportive environment

Setting sail without a life-jacket, on a high-wire without a safety net? Even the best people with exactly the right mind-set will make mistakes. In fact, the best people given the right mind-set and offered a supportive environment where they can express their ideas with confidence will quickly learn to appreciate that a willingness to innovate and to take intelligent risks are highly desirable  – and expected – elements of their job.

  • Honest Feedback

Unknown unknowns – are there things we don’t know we don’t know? The ability to offer meaningful professional feedback has to be a priority skill for any leader to develop. It requires care, understanding and sensitivity – and an acceptance that mistakes will be made.

Nothing new, I know, but the Johari Window can be a useful tool to use to establish the foundations for feedback conversations – the aim being to build trust and mutual understanding, and to grow that first quadrant as far as is possible. Quadrant 4 is where the dangers lie, indicating a lack of self-awareness coupled with a lack of empathy and understanding on the part of colleagues, line-managers and leaders.

Offer encouragement rather than threat, reward rather than sanction, carrot rather than stick…

…but be prepared to recognise when an individual is not right for the team. 

Everything worthwhile is built on the shoulders of the right people in the right place. Does the team (and each team within the team) have the knowledge, skills and behaviours to take us to where we want to be? Attitude is all-important, commitment is non-negotiable and everyone has to accept accountability. Genuine ‘ownership’ has to be earned.

Knowledge can be acquired, skills developed and behaviours modified (if we don’t believe this we shouldn’t work in education). We must consider, however, the cost of acquisition, development & modification and weigh that against the potential benefits to the team.

Attitude and commitment are more complex attributes; both can and often do depend on factors beyond our understanding or control as school leaders and managers – although we must work hard to do so we cannot always identify the right carrot and, even if we can, we may not be able to offer it! Again, the Johari Window may be a useful tool to use.

‘Ownership’ can be a highly effective motivational factor, but it can also be a real bone of contention. Most of us appreciate being trusted to get on with doing the job we have been appointed to do and resent what we see as unwarranted interference or the sort of close scrutiny that borders on surveillance. It is clearly important to define the extent of such ownership in careful terms and, no matter how competent or experienced the ‘owner’ might be, there has to be an understanding that such ownership is earned and that all owners are accountable.

Five things to expect from a genuine team: 

If any team within any organisation is to be all that it can be, everyone should be willing to…

  1. Seek continuous improvement based on honest reflection, objective scrutiny & forensic analysis.
  2. Be patient: effective change often gathers pace slowly, almost imperceptibly, before happening overnight.
  3. Support instinct and professional judgement with evidence: intelligent data collection & utilisation should inform not dictate, should clarify rather than complicate – but without it we cannot be sure that we are moving forward, or moving at all.
  4. Risk failure, but prepare – and expect – to succeed.
  5. Trust each other implicitly.

Here’s to a great year!


Brian Christian is Principal of The British School in Tokyo.


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About Brian Christian 11 Articles
Principal at the British School in Tokyo since 2012 and a Board member of the Council of British International Schools. A proud Manxman.

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