One for all and all for one;Briefing;School managment

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Working together to achieve a goal is what teamwork is all about, but how do you get the most out of the individual members? John Caunt gives a four-point guide

An effective team combines creativity and energy to produce an output greater than the sum of the individual contributions - synergy is the buzzword. In a working environment marked by change and uncertainty, where the challenges are too many to be managed by any one individual, we need to work in teams.

Really effective teams are rare. Frequently the activities of individuals limit, rather than enhance, the effectiveness of the whole. There may be jealousies between members, information suppressed, co-operation withheld. Members may see themselves as being in competition with each other. The team leader may be hampered by personal insecurity and unable to offer the autonomy effective teams need.

Alternatively, the team may have become too cosy, unwilling to challenge ideas and moving too readily toconsensus.

Sometimes the balance of activity is wrong - too much time spent planning and too little action - or it may just be that the team is jaded and out of ideas.

Teamwork issues have spawned numerous books and high-powered training programmes, but here is a four-step guide to making a difference.

1. First, assess the team leader. It is important that leaders are able to give their teams space for development, that they can listen to the views of others and can ensure everyone's participation.They should be more coach than boss.

Rather than handing out jobs and checking on progress, effective team leaders will give initial direction, review performance and provide positivereinforcement.

How leaders appear to others is more relevant than how they see themselves. It can be valuable to check perceptions with team members by comparing expectations of each other. This will not necessarily be comfortable, but a team leader needs to be secure enough to countenance criticism and not always rely on the authority of their position. What you do speaks louder than what you say when it comes to building trust and confidence.

2. The second step is to ensure that everyone is working together. Combine clear task objectives with achieving individual needs. The task objectives must be specific, measurable and time related, but people also need to feel personally involved. Talking about and sharing a vision is essential for commitment and a sense of pride in working jointly on something worth doing.

3. Identify the strengths of team members and ensure they are matched to their roles. Clarity and openness about a role reduces damaging internal competition and hidden agendas.

Any working group needs an assortment of skills and traits, such as imagination and insight to solutions to problems, practical implementation and attention to detail.

Deficiencies in particular areas can be remedied by development, which is not possible if a person tries to cover every position in the team.

4. Strive to build confidence and self-belief. You need a climate in which people feel able to take risks and where mistakes can be treated as learning points.

The power of positive reinforcement should never be underestimated. We all respond to it, but it must be appropriate and targeted. Simply spraying compliments will not work. Give particular attention to recognising and rewarding behaviour that contributes to effective teamworking.

The end of an academic year is a good time to take a fresh look at the way teams function. Be open about intentions and discuss changes in the group. Everyone likes new year resolutions. Failure was like a bereavement Secondary head teacher Jill Rattle stepped out of her school for six months to manage a neighbouring school that had failed in an Office for Standards in Education inspection shortly before its headteacher retired.

She says people who have been through such negative experiences exhibit symptoms similar to those of bereavement, perhaps most markedly exhaustion. Recapturing energy is the starting point for rebuilding effective teams.

The leader must pinpoint and address the factors causing energy loss. These might be disciplinary problems, unnecessary bureaucracy, jobs not being done by the right people, or attempts to focus on too many tasks at once. "People can only relax into creativity if they know they have a secure structure," Ms Rattle says.

The leader must promote the team's objectives at all times. They must help individual members recognise their impact on others' jobs and the effect each has on the team. It is a matter of getting the right balance between professional trust and professional accountability.

Above all, she says the leader needs to build the team's self-belief. "You can't move from failure to success by ignoring weaknesses, but if you help people recognise their strengths they are better equipped to address their own weaknesses."

Management tricks or not, it works

Jackie, a member of a middle school management team, noticed the difference to team working after the arrival of a new headteacher. At first staff were sceptical about his approach, suspecting trendy management tricks. "But it doesn't really matter whether they are tricks or not - the fact is they work," she says.

"Expectations of us are higher than previously, but there is a sense of trust and confidence in our abilities such that we have all raised our game. While he has strong views of his own, there is a readiness to listen and to be persuaded. The fact that good work is noticed and responded to has made a tremendous difference."

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