As of this month, if you are leading or a member of an academic team, you should be clear as to what your role is, what your team have agreed to achieve, and have begun collecting data to assess how your team is progressing.
If you are leading or on a non-academic team, you should have begun planning for the next school year. Regardless with how confident you are as to what stage your team is currently in, December is when you need to take stock.
December is when teams either start to unfold, slip into a complacent state or become reinvigorated. Obviously the latter outcome is what we all hope for, but unfortunately it is the former states that many teams find themselves in. Often the difference between staying stuck in those states and transcending to the ideal outcome is a matter of asking three questions:
- What our we doing well?
- How can we improve the way we work?
- What should our focus be for the next 3 months?
At a minimum, that is what I hope all leaders take 15 minutes out of their next agenda to ask. However, if you get surpised by the discussions that ensue, then maybe you need a Team Health Check (THC).
In today’s schools, teams are responsible for accomplishing many transactional tasks, such as lesson planning and event coordination. Those tasks may be delegated to a team, but are completed by individuals. However, harnessing the collective energy of team members, getting them to work interdependently, and working towards a transformative outcome should be the focus of a team. Developing synergy between team members can be challenging, so it’s critical to know where to focus.
It’s easy enough to measure a team’s performance against set targets or objectives. The tricky bit is getting an accurate picture of the dynamics within the team, and establishing what the team members think about the issues that affect them on a daily basis; such as level of morale, or style of leadership, or whether they feel they have the necessary tools to do the job. If you really knew what your team members thought about how the team operates wouldn’t that enable you to make it even more effective?
The THC assessment that I prescribe to Boards, Senior Leadership, Teaching and Administrative teams analyses 13 key Team Performance Indicators that affect team performance, in a level of granularity that pinpoints specific areas of strength and opportunities for development within those 13 Indicators.
Its comprehensive nature, involving quick and easy responses to 156 one-line statements, covers these performance categories:
- Balanced Roles
- Clear Objectives and Purpose
- Openness, Trust, Confrontation and Conflict Resolution
- Co-operation, Support, Interpersonal Communication and Relationships
- Individual and Team Learning and Development
- Sound Inter-Group Relations and Communications
- Appropriate Management/Leadership
- Sound Team Procedures and Regular Review
- Output, Performance, Quality and Accountability
- Change, Creativity Challenge the Status Quo
- Decision-Making and Problem Solving
Assessment results produce a team report that enable a team to take positive, purposeful actions in areas that are likely to generate the greatest return in terms of performance enhancement activities.
Here are some additional benefits of the Team Health Check:
- Can compare the results of several teams within the school;
- Is 100% anonymous enabling participants to be entirely honest in their responses;
- Is neutral and independent, making no assumptions about the current strengths or development needs of the team;
- Ensures the ‘buy-in’ of all team members, as each person has the opportunity to express their own views and opinions with a guarantee of 100% confidentially;
- Is quick and simple to complete; it takes individuals typically 20 minutes to complete
- Can form the basis of a ‘Team Development Plan’ for the next 12 months; and
- Can be repeated at future points, to show how things have changed as a result of the heightened awareness created by the first diagnostic, and resultant action planning
The THC, once completed, provides teams with substantive data from which they can engage in performance related discussions, without the fear of being judged or criticised. The following is a protocol I drafted for teams to analyse THC data:
Protocol Duration: 30 minutes
Materials: Printout of results for each team member, colored pens, chart paper and/or white board.
Groupings: If participant numbers are greater than 6, then seat participants in groups of 3-6. Group dialog should be facilitated in this manner:
- For groups of 3-6 ask each person to individually reflect, then pair and share and then share as pairs to the group.
- For larger groups, follow the above instructions but instead of pairs group people in sub-groups of 3-4 and then report to the larger group with a single answer encompassing their individual responses.
- The facilitator should synthesise all responses into a collective statement.
As a facilitator, you are meant to provoke dialogue, summarise responses and identify opportunities for building consensus. Please refrain from leading discussions with your own personal experience or by providing examples. Encourage participants to first share, based on their understanding and then follow up with your own personal insights.
- Ask participants to quietly reflect on the assumptions they were making before taking the THC. Ensure there is no talking for one minute. Once you feel all participants are ready to share, then proceed based on the instructions noted above under Groupings.
- Understanding the disparity between assumptions team members had when taking the assessment and how those assumptions changed after being exposed to all the statements is critical to building common understanding of the task across the team.
- Distribute the reports and ensure every participant has a colored pen or marker. Provide participants 3-5 minutes to review the reports and give them this one instruction: “Circle / highlight 1-3 things that immediately stand out to you in this report.” Ask them to do this quietly for 2-3 minutes, but allow them to begin sharing with each other after 2 minutes until you notice everyone is ready to contribute. Once you feel all participants are ready to share, then proceed based on the instructions noted above under Groupings.
- Time for reviewing the report is limited at this stage as you want to capture initial impressions and understand what data each team member is ‘looking’ for.
- It is important at this stage to prevent team members from sharing assumptions or opinions about what they are observing. Restrict dialog to only observations.
- Build consensus on 3 observations that you feel the whole group is interested in exploring deeper.
- Choose or contribute one observation that is related to page 3, Team Members vs Team Leaders Perception. Write that observation on chart paper / white board and ask participants to quietly reflect on that observation. A question to provoke reflection may include: “What experiences or ideas about our team relative to that observation can contribute to this result?”. It is important to reinforce language representing the team, such as we and our team. If participants use language such as you or them, remind them to keep comments relevant to our team. Once you feel all participants are ready to share, then proceed based on the instructions noted above under Groupings.
- Choose observations that are related to specific statements. Focus on one statement at a time and write that statement on chart paper / white board and ask participants to quietly reflect on “What experiences or ideas were you thinking of when rating that statement?”. It is important to reinforce language representing the team, such as we and our team. If participants use language such as you or them, remind them to keep comments relevant to our team. Once you feel all participants are ready to share, then proceed based on the instructions noted above under Groupings.
- After everyone has reflected on the experiences that are associated with a particular statement, ask participants to consider actions that we as a team can take to address that performance variable. A question to provoke thought is: “If we were to retake the THC in 6 months, what do we need to do to close the gap between our scores / reflect more positively on this statement so that the average score increases by X%?”
The above protocol can also be used to review any other form of team performance data.
The success of the protocol relies on all team members understanding the assumptions that each other entered into this process. That discussion alone can yield enough anecdotal information for the team to unpack, so be careful regarding time.
I often say to team leaders that the THC, and specifically reading the 156 team performance indicators, provides ample reason and motivation for team members to engage in passionate and productive dialog about the team’s health. Exposure to the performance indicators provokes a lot of thought around if it applies to the team, and whether it should or not at the teams current stage of development.
This latter point also raises an interesting point about team members that find it difficult to rate several of the team performance indicators and use as an excuse, ‘this doesn’t apply to us’. That excuse is prevalent on several teams because it is often a performance indicator an educator would never hold themselves to, largely because they never thought to apply that measure.
As an example, lets consider a school board. Often when I use the THC with School Boards I get push back about performance indicators related to Individual and Team Learning and Development. One reason for this is that School Boards often have very prescriptive nominating measures that they feel bring the necessary experience and knowledge onto the Board without having to build board members capacity. Unfortunately, they overlook the fact that these people have never served on a school board, let alone have any working experience with the board that they are joining. Individual development in this case would be orientating new board members on their fiduciary responsibilities, which in some countries have legal liability. Team learning can relate to team building and strategic planning. It is naïve to think a team that meets 5 times a year has a good enough understanding of each other to effectively build consensus. School boards that don’t team-build are often lead by very strong board chairs and/or school management that end up doing all the ‘heavy lifting’.
Similar to the example of the school board, several academic and non-academic teams struggle to apply the team performance indicators related to Balanced Roles, as team members either have very disparate responsibilities or different stakeholders (students and/or parents) that they must attend to.
In this scenario this is a team in name only as they fail to have a team identity. They see their work as unique and don’t see the value in investing time to achieve a level of interdependency where Balanced Roles and Clear Objectives and Purpose are essential. With this mind-set, they are unable to consider the team performance indicators as relevant. The good news about this scenario is that as a leader it is very easy to determine where your focus should be i.e. team building. If these symptoms are ignored, the work of the team leader becomes infinitely harder, as technically you’re not leading a team, but a collection of individuals. When team members are working interdependently, they become responsible to each other, and the work of the team leader can than be focused less on transactional tasks and more on transformational goals.
Michael Iannini is based in Hong Kong. You can view Michael’s biography by visiting the Council of International Schools website, http://www.cois.org/page.cfm?p=2619. You can learn more about the work Michael does by visiting www.pdacademia.com or following him on Twitter @PDacademia or on LinkedIn, hk.linkedin.com/in/michaeliannini.