Masterclass: Building teams - Stronger together

20th February 2009 at 00:00
Working outside the regular school boundaries can enhance how every department works as a team when they are back on home turf

It's easy for departments to become insular and develop their own comfort zones. One way to improve the way teams work together is to encourage them to see how other teams operate and share ideas.

The University of Cumbria has been working with the South Lakes Federation, a group of 10 schools and a local FE college, to share expertise in secondary science teaching. Part of the project was to audit what goes on in each school and who has what expertise. The teachers share their planning predicaments and training materials and then bring back what they've learnt to their own departments. It's all done within a structured framework that has potential to add value in the classroom.

This works as an example of good teamwork in two ways: teachers share their good practice not just within their own institution but also with their peers in the federation. Although it focuses on lesson content and delivery, a by-product of this is that it helps the teachers to foster effective teams back in their own schools. Research supports this. According to a survey by the General Teaching Council for England, 75 per cent of teachers found that collaboration between their school and others has led to improvements in their teaching.

As well as encouraging your departments to operate outside of their usual boundaries, you need to think about building their strength internally. Often, the individuals themselves are best placed to decide on their roles, responsibilities and objectives within the team, but it might help to build a "strategy map" to define what you're trying to achieve and set goals for those involved.

It also pays to be aware of the hard and soft sides of teamwork. The hard side might include giving everyone a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, creating clarity of communication and purpose and creating healthy - rather than destructive - conflict. The soft side, such as boosting morale, is often the part that receives more focus and is essential to the workings of a team. The team needs to be challenged and supported by its leader, understand its purpose, be free to contribute and feel unconstrained to interact.

It's also vital to reward team members. Sometimes financial remuneration is not an option, but other incentives are essential. For example, consider sabbaticals and development programmes for teams.

Salaries are a great motivator but giving team members responsibility is one of the most powerful tools available. Being part of, or even leading, a team like the science teachers in the South Lakes Federation can affirm individuals' good practice by saying "you're valued"

Neil Simco is dean of faculty of education at the University of Cumbria.

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