Effective teams are key to raising standards argues Pat Barnes, education consultant and former headteacher.

Have you ever attended an Insed (D for development rather than T for training!) session that had an immediate impact? One where, once the philosophy and rationale were explained, you tingled with anticipation knowing this was right for you? And knowing, too, that the course would greatly influence your thinking about leadership and management in schools?

This is exactly what happened to me as I trained to deliver Working Together for Success. Not only was it expertly led by one of the course developers, I also met a number of like-minded professionals who work in a variety of advisory capacities to support schools as they deliver an increasingly demanding workload. We were strongly reminded that effective and efficient leadership is really too much for one individual: a far more productive outcome is achieved from a team approach.

Teams function for different purposes. The Change Teams recently developed by schools to help introduce and cascade thinking behind all the remodelling agendas have generally proved very successful. Several schools continue to use them as consultation and communication channels. Subject Teams are also in place in some to ensure that core subjects in particular reflect continuity and progression. Representatives from different phases monitor, evaluate and assess progress to ensure children attain higher and higher targets.

Whole-school thinking The Leading from the Middle programme also relies on teams. And governor committees and subcommittees are proving incredibly productive. So, gone is the expectation that a teacher works alone in his/her own classroom with rules and culture peculiar to that room and personality. Individuality for its own sake is out! More and more the thinking is ‘whole-school’ with consistent practice throughout and all subscribing to commonly held visions and values. So where are the children in all this? Well, they – and their parents, and governors – will also expect consistent practice in every area of school life: high academic expectations, behaviour sanctions and rewards and so on.

The team that is currently assuming a much higher profile is the Leadership Team, made up of the head and other staff with special responsibilities, who have a good overall picture of school and are able to inform decisions from a number of viewpoints, not always discernible to the head. Clear protocols must be agreed at the inception of the team: make the ground rules explicit, assume nothing, and agree primarily to listen, understand and learn to both hold back and contribute at the right time.

Resolving issues
So how can teams resolve issues? Well, to begin with, clear roles and responsibilities must be defined. My ‘old but gold’ friend Belbin comes into play here. Belbin maintains that for every team to work successfully, each of nine roles must be represented. Even if there are only three people in the team, each of the roles must be present or it will not function.

These roles range from the coordinator (who chairs the group) to the shaper (who challenges) to the completer-finisher (support staff are excellent in this role!). Not only are strengths of the role identified but also ‘allowable weaknesses’ which may, possibly, wearing another hat, be used for performance management objective purposes. From my own experience as head, staff really enjoyed identifying their own strengths – and working to them.

Successful teams also rely heavily on trust – a mature trust – of each other’s professional capabilities, as well as personal regard and respect of another’s viewpoint. The oft used distributed/shared leadership phrase relies heavily on each team member having the same personal philosophy – with crystal clear outcomes/success criteria articulated. Joint responsibility and accountability are also crucial. Regular review and evaluation must be included in the agenda of every meeting. Was this the best way of approaching the organisation of parents’ evenings, for example? Could it have been simpler? Should we have gone for three evenings? The organisation of meetings can then be used for individual and team development once the systems are established.

Working Together for Success
So where does Working Together for Success come in? The programme aims to ‘build highly effective teams to support a more effective learning environment for pupils’. It features relevant school challenges as a focus for effective teamwork, with an action learning approach to encourage changes in attitudes and behaviours, using a diagnostic tool to provide team insight. Programme delivery is eight days over two/three terms in total: two one-day events and one residential event with other SLTs, four days of in-school work focused on an issue chosen by the school and one half-day off-site for a team learning review with other SLTs.

The expected impact of the programme is very positive, of course – improved effectiveness of the SLT, enhanced personal growth, enhanced levels of trust between SLT members, both within school and between schools, and enhanced distributed leadership skills and effectiveness.
All of which results in raised standards, don’t you think?