Discover how to manage the dynamics of a balanced and well-organized childcare team

An effective, well-organized childcare team needs a balance of team members who possess a variety of skills, attitudes, and personal qualities. The qualification level and experience of each individual is clearly important, not least because of the need to comply with statutory requirements, but the personal characteristics of the members of staff team are also critical. A team made up of too many members with the same attitudes and personal approaches will create an imbalance which could prevent the team from working effectively.

Identifying the characteristics of team members

A number of studies on the way different individuals behave in a team situation have produced certain definitions of the roles which team members of a team. This is as true of a team of staff working with young children and families as it is in any other team working situation.

The work of the management theorist Meredith Belbin identified nine different roles which team members play, based on their personalities, ways of thinking and characteristic behaviors. These nine roles are:

  • completer/finisher
  • coordinator
  • implementer
  • monitor/evaluator
  • plant
  • resource investigator
  • shaper
  • specialist
  • team worker

Studies have shown that of these nine roles most people display three or four roles which they tend to adopt naturally, depending on the nature of the challenge they are addressing.

To find out more about this way of characterizing individual team roles, including the contribution each might bring to a team, look at the Belbin team roles website.

From the website one can access the ‘self-perception inventory’ which, when completed, identifies an individual’s preference for each of these team roles. Carrying out this process with members of your early years team can provide an interesting starting point for discussions about how to work together effectively.

Building up an understanding of the personalities and traits of an early years team can help to define the additional skills which may be needed to help the team to progress. For example, a team which finds it difficult to carry projects through to conclusion would benefit from the skills of a ‘completer/finisher’, while a team which finds it difficult to come up with new ideas would make good use of the input from an ‘activist’.

A simpler way of identifying roles within a team has been proposed by Peter Honey (2007). This uses five definitions of the individual roles which people may play in a team situation:

  • Leader – the person who makes sure the setting’s objectives are clear and that everyone is involved and committed.
  • Challenger – the one who questions ineffectiveness and takes the lead in pressing for improvements/results.
  • Doer – the person who urges the members of the childcare team to get on with the task in hand.
  • Thinker – the individual who produces carefully considered ideas and weighs up and improves ideas from others.
  • Supporter – plays the part of easing tensions and maintaining harmonious working relationships.

Further information on defining each of these roles and understanding how they contribute to developing an effective team can be found in ‘Teams and Teamwork’ from Peter Honey publications.

From even a brief consideration of these five roles it is clear that each plays a vital role in contributing to the smooth running of any high-quality early years setting.

The dynamics of developing a new team

A new team, or one which contains a number of new members, will not necessarily operate smoothly from the outset. Instead, time will need to be spent nurturing the team and managing it through its early stages of development. Most teams go through a series of developmental stages which have been described by Bruce Tuckman (1965) as forming, storming, norming and performing (see box below).

Characteristics of an effective team

  • The vision and objectives of the team are clear and well understood by all.
  • Everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities.
  • Good communication strategies ensure information is shared by all.
  • Simple ground rules regarding behavior and confidentiality are established and adhered to.
  • Aspirations are high and everyone understands that they are expected to fulfil their role.
  • Everyone takes shared responsibility for achieving the objectives of the team.
  • Team members trust one another and make an effort to understand one another.

Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development

  • Forming – the team members act as individuals and are highly dependent on the team leader for guidance and direction. Team members generally have little clarity about their roles and responsibilities and no little of no appreciation of the roles and responsibilities of others.
  • Storming – a difficult phase for all teams. At this stage individuals tend to vie for position and challenge one another. Compromises may be need to be made  to enable the team to move on to the next phase.
  • Norming – the phase when a team has reached an agreement, where roles and responsibilities are clear and accepted and the team is able to demonstrate strong commitment and a sense of unity. Decisions are reached by agreement within the group and the team leader is able to act as facilitator and enabler rather than as director of the group.
  • Performing – the final, and most productive, phase of teamwork.  The early years team has a good strategic awareness of its aims and objectives and a strong shared vision. It is able to function well in the absence of the team leader and any disagreements which occur are resolved quickly and effectively. At this stage in its development the team is well structured to take on new initiatives and challenges and move quality early years practice on.