This past week in a learning exercise with 12 promising educators, we looked at the difference between working as individuals, groups and teams in schools. Basically, what is the difference between “I’ll do it alone”, “I’ll do it alone and then share with anyone” and “I’ll do it with you”. It is no secret of the power of professional learning communities in our schools, but can collegiality sometimes be disguised as collaboration? When we broke down and really examined the learning experience, a group became defined as people who cooperate well together, whereas a team is a collection that collaborative for a common goal.
A team became defined as a collection of individuals working together to accomplish a common goal. They strategically determine what it is to be accomplished and then collaboratively work to achieve it. Collectively, the class found the following features of a team that are definitely worth noting and reflecting upon:
1. As a team, you divide responsibilities – a team can share the workload and take on distinct roles and responsibilities related to the accomplishment of the final goal. When working individually, everyone does all the work. Working as a group means everyone does the work but then picks out the “exemplary” or merges it together at the conclusion. A team shares the workload, ultimately reducing the amount placed on any one individual’s plate.
2. You can focus on team member strengths – a good team knows that different people bring different elements to the table and collectively they capitalize on the individual strengths and talents of the separate parts. Just like a sports team relies upon offensive and defensive specialists (or even the shootout specialists now being seen in hockey!), teams take time to analyze the talents of their members and utilize those effectively.
3. Working as a team reduces stress…hopefully – if sharing responsibilities and focusing upon member strengths, the work of the team should reduce the individual stress of its members. Seems obvious, right? However, we had the astute observation is that can only happen if the workload is distributed amongst the group (maybe not equally but equitably) and that the focus is clear (and desired by all team members). Without that, it can lead to “oh no, not another team meeting again…!!”
4. You share success and celebration – a team allows its members to share success, leading to a greater sense of accomplishment and efficacy. Celebrating is always more rewarding when shared! The feeling of “we did it” can motivate and urge teams on to even greater heights.
5. You hold each other accountable – Sir Ken Robinson discusses the concept of a “tribe” pushes its members to greater heights not achievable (or even sometimes imagined) without that extra “push” brought on my contemporaries. This concept applies to the work of a team, as each member understands their role and the critical nature it plays on the collective success of the group. Think of this as the old “chain is only as strong as the weakest link” cliche…and no one wants to be that weakest link!
Ultimately for our schools to be successful universally for kids, the staff within the building need to operate with a team mindset, all working towards the clear target of student success, in whatever form that takes. By having this discussion and realization with teachers in the pre-service stage of their career, we can hope to populate schools with team-orientated educators in the future.