Take time out to grow as a team

25th August 2006 at 01:00
This time last year, after three of my four deputes had been promoted to other posts, I had virtually a new senior leadership team. We needed time to get to know each other and share our beliefs and values before the new term hit us like a train (which of course it did!).

Matthew Boyle, who had worked with Professor John MacBeath, of Cambridge University, and Learning Unlimited, had recently been appointed as a quality improvement officer with Argyll and Bute and assumed the remit for professional development. He agreed to lead a leadership, management and team building course for us and off we went one weekend to a nice hotel.

Work started at 6pm on the Friday, went on into the wee small hours and we were finally let loose to go home on the Saturday afternoon: less than 24 hours but a great deal was packed in.

We started by selecting, from a wide range, pictures that encapsulate our beliefs and values for education and sharing these with the team.

We covered leadership and management theories, types of leaders and communication styles and spent some time on Andy Stanley's work on "the next generation leader". His book (of that title) describes the five areas that leaders must understand and engage: competence, courage, clarity, coaching and character.

Great leaders play to their strengths, which means that we have to identify our own strengths and, to be effective as a team, know the strengths of those around us.

In the area of courage, talent doesn't define leadership, seizing opportunity does. And leaders don't hide from the truth: this is part of their courage.

Being clear to others about your mission is crucial (which doesn't mean you know all the answers), while keeping values up front and going the right way.

The scary part for leaders is that your character is always on show.

Character doesn't make leaders but it makes you a leader worth following.

"What you are shouts so loud, I can't hear what you say above it!"

We finished the session by developing our team aims, with the intention of revisiting them regularly. These now head up our senior leadership team minutes.

We headed into the term as a team still in the early stages of forming, but we knew each other well and were on the same mission. The term, as always, was relentless and our great intentions to focus regularly on leadership and team aims went into the sand. By Christmas, a few cracks had started to appear in our team and we all agreed that it was time for another team building session. Off we went again with Matthew on a Friday evening in January.

That session was much more difficult and a great deal of soul searching was done. We started off by revisiting our aims. We were then able to identify where the strengths were and what we had to work on. Then came the hard part; this required all of our courage, both individually and collectively, as we worked through our difficulties.

By Saturday lunchtime we, as a team, were into the "norming" phase and left to face the gruelling second term. Without that session we would probably have taken much longer to get through the storm and perhaps might not have made it as a team, leading to resentments, disappointments and a much poorer performance and poorer service to our school.

April saw us out again, this time for a day to work on A Curriculum for Excellence. This was a team at the "performing" stage, firing on all cylinders and in creative flow. Our experience deepened our understanding of leadership, our own individual and collective strengths and created an effective team.

We are agreed that it would be highly beneficial for all of our teams to go through this process, since teachers are leaders too. The challenge for us is just how to achieve that in a large school.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban HighIf you have any comments, email scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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