Teamwork: I have been thinking for some time about what makes a good team. What is the secret ingredient that makes a team work effectively and grow, through adversity to develop the kind of strength needed to experience success? I am not yet, despite my experience with many teams able to pinpoint any one magical requirement which I could say defines a ‘good team’ in this way. However, what I have learnt is that at the heart of a team are the people who make it and it is this, for me, which seems the most sensible place to start.
Schools are interesting places to work. By their very nature, each one is different and each one has creative individuals who strive to do their very best for the students they teach. A school is a place of innovative thinking. With that comes a wide range of differing opinions and unique personalities. Human nature is such that we will not always agree or work well with all those we meet in life. It does not however mean that we cannot learn from all those we interact with. Even some of our darkest experiences bring lessons and those we find most challenging to work with can often bring us the most personal and professional growth.
With that in mind then, and at all times acknowledging that this is only the beginning of my own journey, these are some of the valuable lessons I have learnt about building an effective team. I have always been very aware that I am on a learning journey myself and so each new lesson and experience brings with it an opportunity to develop my own vision and values. What I value most, is my team.
“There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools.” Sir Ken Robinson. (TED: How to escape education’s death valley) uked.chat/escapevalley
Very often the nature of the school system means that each year we find ourselves working with different teachers. It cannot be denied that we spend an awful lot of time with the students we teach but likewise, we do with the adults we work with. In a very short space of time, it is important to ensure that your team makes an impact. To ensure that impact is noticeable, I have learnt that the first thing a team needs is nurturing. It is important to get to know the individuals who make it. We encourage individuality amongst our students and we often find that many of their talents are hidden. The same can be seen in the adults we work with. If you take a few minutes to stop and think about the individuals on your team, you will begin to see how they all differ. A team will not be effective if it has only one ‘type’ of individual on it. For this reason, the differences are something which should be celebrated and openly acknowledged. Each team member needs to feel valued for who they are and what strengths they bring to the team.
It is about bringing those different strengths together under the same ethos to achieve learning that is important. Through utilising the strengths of each team member, the weaknesses in the team can be addressed. Each member feels valued for the part they play in the team because their strengths are recognised. Team members begin to work together genuinely recognising that collaboration gets better results. Sharing strengths and working together on weaknesses leads to forging strong team bonds. We can all learn from each other through collaboration, continuing professional dialogue and valuing the contribution that each of us makes. Mother Theresa could not have put it better when she said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
Confidence within a team is key. Setting the tone for the environment within which you work I think can have dramatic effects for the good or bad. It needs to be an environment in which questions can be asked and opinions discussed.
Professional dialogue and disagreement need to be heard without fear of reprisal. Disagreements will happen; a conflict will arise and passions will run high by the very nature of the level of commitment being given by each individual. If dealt with in the right way, this is a good thing. It is part of what brings a team together, overcoming differences. My current team is an amazing one. We are all different. We have different ideas and we have different strategies. We have three things in common: our love of learning and the passion with which we are determined to do our best for the children we teach; our mutual professional respect for each other as educators and as individuals and our greatest strength, I believe is our acceptance of each other and willingness to learn from each other. Conversations no matter how difficult are always resolved. We listen to each other and we have to continue the professional dialogue. This enables us to learn and develop our own practice but more importantly, it strengthens the team. Every day we discuss and share our failures as well as our successes. We are not afraid to reflect and adapt together and as a result we not only have confidence in ourselves, we have it in our team. It is not about being the best in the team. It is about being the best for the team. Our first ideas only become successful lessons through conversation and collaboration.
Does life ever run smoothly in a team? I would say yes it can. Not always and without a doubt we can all find ourselves treading through murky waters on occasion but this is part of life. It has been my experience that with the right commitment and effort to the team and the individuals who make up the team, begin to enjoy what they have built. They enjoy being part of the community they are contributing to on a daily basis and when hurdles come their way, they jump them. Together.
I would say above anything else if you want to build a strong, effective and happy team: Be part of it. Get stuck in and work as everyone around you does. Give it your all. We are all in this for one reason: the children. There is no better motivation than being part of a team where everyone pitches in and works together to make a contribution. Does it matter what your job title is if you are pitching in as part of the team? We very often hear the phrase ‘walk the walk’ and sadly sometimes it can be the case that we see people merely talking the talk. They are very different things. We lead by example and our actions speak louder than our words. Setting a positive approach to tackling challenges and not being afraid to be facing that challenge with your team is crucial. Challenges are there for a reason – they help us to see how much we thought we could not achieve. The stronger the team the greater the achievement. Bruce Tuckman writes of a team going through a process together. His process talks of forming, storming, norming and performing. He later added a fifth stage to this of adjournment but if you consider his theory that a team need to come together and get to know each other, thrash out their differences and understand their role in the team before being able to effectively go on to perform successfully, it stands to reason that every member of that team needs to get involved for that team to begin to evolve. It takes all the members for the glue to stick.
I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes. It sums up what I try to make my own approach every day to bringing my team together and making them effective and strong. I have learnt that no matter what the end goal, my team, and those I work with are always at the top of the list with the students I teach. It is by Henry Ford said on teamwork, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is a process; working together is success.”
Claire Bracher @cjabracher is a Year 4 teacher and Assistant Headteacher at West Thornton Primary Academy, Croydon. Read her blog at clairebracher.wordpress.com