Julie Jennings considers how to build your Foundation Stage staff into an effective team.

Leadership qualities are something that successful schools enable everyone to practise and develop over time, in different situations. As a leader in the foundation stage you may have much experience in this area or be leading a team for the first time.

If you are relatively inexperienced this brief series of articles is for you. In the last article we considered the role that leaders play in a team and looked at some of the leadership qualities that help team members to give of their best. In this article we look at what it is that helps effective teams to work and therefore how you can best go about developing your foundation stage team.

Group work or team work?

One of the many good things that have come out of all the educational changes in the last couple of decades is that it is now the norm to find ourselves working with colleagues as part of an effective team. This is good news for both learners and teachers. However, the first time you have responsibility for leading a team you may find yourself unsure of the best way to develop an effective team.

Think about group work

Children sitting round a table working on the same task but tackling it as individuals are not doing group work. Children sitting round a table working on the same task but each one contributing to the completion of that task, employing each child’s strengths, can be described as working as a group.

So it is with your team.

If they are all working as individuals they are not a team, even if they do have the same goal in mind. To be a team they have to recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses, support each other, and learn from each other, and each person has to contribute their particular skills and knowledge.

Shared rules, shared purpose

An effective team is a group of people with a shared, clear sense of purpose, working towards one or more common goals, which achieves more collectively than each person could do individually. 

 Effective teams have a leader who helps ensure that team members accept and practise the ground rules. These rules include agreeing a purpose, sharing views on the different ways in which goals can be achieved and agreeing ways of working that will facilitate this. The leader also motivates the team in a way which fosters commitment and co-operation between team members.

The checklist on the right considers the ways of working that help teams to be effective, so that you can critically consider your own practice and the way in which your team is developing. The learning that takes place in the foundation stage will be much enhanced by your successful team development. In the next article we’ll look at ways in which you can monitor just how successfully your team is operating.

Checklist for effective team working

1. Leadership Most of the items in this list are your responsibility. Remember that as leader you are not there to dominate, but to enable the team to function. 

2. Time management
Team members need to feel that they are making progress towards achieving goals. In part this relies on short, well-focused tasks and meetings which start and end on time.

3. Shared sense of purpose

Everyone needs to be clear about why they are working together – what the purpose is. Managing meetings so that conversation doesn’t continually wander off the point is important.
4. Being well prepared
Everyone needs to know what it is that they need to do or to think about between team meetings and what they need to come to the next meeting with.
5. Active listening and questioning Everyone needs to listen properly to each other, thinking about what is said. Equally important is that there is a climate of trust and respect within the team in which members feel able to ask for clarification, checking their understanding of points being made. You can help with this by employing techniques you use in the classroom – summarising what has been said and facilitating the asking of questions to ensure that everyone is on the right track.

6. Keep focused
It is frustrating to be in a team in which individual members continually cause distractions or talk about their own concerns or issues. Whilst acknowledging the value of individual experiences and reflections in certain discussions, it is essential that as leader you develop the skill of bringing the discussion back on track when it diverts. Obviously a little of this can occasionally be essential light relief, but we can all think of experiences when this goes too far. When this happens you risk losing the enthusiasm and motivation of other team members.

7. Encourage a climate in which differences of opinion are normal and helpful, enabling team members to practise presenting conflicting views without open conflict

Sharing differing views enables everyone to re-present ideas and consider different viewpoints. Building compromises often helps to build stronger understanding and relationships between team members and can often lead to much creative thought in the process.

8. Value the range of talents in your team
The above point can underline the wide range of experience and skills in your team. An effective team uses and learns from this range of skills and experiences, particularly where the leader is skilled at creating a climate of confidence in members whereby they offer such help without being asked.

9. Aim for consensus – although accept that you will not always get it.

Always ask members if they agree with proposals or decisions – and remember that silence doesn’t necessarily mean yes or no! If there is wide disagreement, allow thinking time and agree exactly when you will revisit the issue, with points identified for consideration. Remember to speak individually to members, perhaps outside of the meeting, if you suspect it would be useful. 
10. Action – agree it and record it.
For teams to develop successfully they need to do much more than talk! Once decisions have been agreed, ensure that everyone knows exactly what their responsibility is – to do what, with whom, by when. Record this information for everyone to check back to. This is both a practical aide and also helps members acknowledge the progress the team is making.