3 October 2015


What is the difference between a team and a group of people working well together? There is a belief that teamwork will lighten the load or make things happen faster. We have realised that is not quite so...

“Real teams perform- they are not amorphous groups that we call teams because we think the label is motivating and energising” 

Katzenbach and Smith - "The Wisdom of Teams"

In a session with Tony Burkin last term I became quite alarmed when he announced to the room that "one of the myths is that teachers like to collaborate". I felt incredibly uncomfortable about this statement but it is this statement that has forced me to keep thinking and digging into what it really means to be a team and what collaboration needs to look like.
There are a number of reasons that teams actually underperform. These include (according to Burkin):
  • no clearly defined explicit purpose (They exist because they are all about raising student achievement)
  • People mistakenly believe teams working together harmoniously are better and more productive.  We've all been in one of those meeting where a new idea or concept is introduced as non-negotiable because "the SLT has decided..."
  • Newness is a liability. Crikey, what does this mean for us as a new school with new teams and new groups coming together? This makes me realise the sense of urgency to foster professional relationships as well as social relationships.
  • Complacency - there is no room for deviants as it creates mediocrity in a team.

Working groups come together to share information, share perspectives and insights, make decisions to help each other. The focus was always on individual goals and accountabilities. Workers don’t take responsibility for results other than their own. Working groups are prevalent in our schools. They are great place to be and I have worked with some great groups of people. But they have not been teams.

Teams go beyond group discussions and sharing information. In a team there will be dialogue about performance standards. There will be debates and it will feel comfortable enough to have open ended conversations. The role of the leader is to foster that open and honest dialogue so that the beliefs of the team are collective and the practices reflect what the team has defined as important. The desired outcome is clear to all. This common commitment distinguishes a group of workers from a team. Without it groups perform as individuals. With a common commitment, teams will hold each other accountable for their performance in a trusting and transparent culture.

Reflection: How can our teams articulate their common commitment and use this to evaluate their effectiveness?

No group can ever become a team until it can hold itself accountable as a team. It’s the difference between "the boss holding me accountable" to "we hold each other to account".

Our common commitment is to cause learning… Do our discussions reflect this?