Leaders lead high-performing teams

How do you lead high-performing teams?

Effective team work can add great value to a school, and the leader’s role is crucial in developing high performing teams that achieve their goals. After all much of the work we do is carried out in teams.

In this section we explore the characteristics of high-performing teams, the stages teams move through in order to perform at a high level and the leadership behaviors that support the growth of high-performing teams.

We have already looked at the importance of developing a collaborative culture (Developing collaboration), the school as a professional learning community (What is a PLC?) and some of the ways in which a leader can develop and grow a PLC (Developing our PLC). When planning professional development on the importance of teams you may wish to refer back to these pages.

Professional inquiry

Our professional inquiry addresses the following issues:

  • What do high-performing teams look like?
  • How do high-performing teams form, grow and mature?
  • What is requited of a team leader?
  • How can different leadership styles be used to increase team effectiveness?

Guiding definitions - Teams

A general definition of 'team' is 'a small group of people (typically fewer than 20 but usually more than 10) with complementary skills committed to a common purpose and a set of specific goals'. (Katzenbach and Smith, The Wisdom of Teams,1994:21)

Teams, it is suggested:

  • have a common purpose
  • share perceptions
  • agree procedures
  • are committed to the team, its members and its goals
  • co-operate with each other
  • resolve disagreements openly (Crawford, Kydd and Riches, Leadership and Teams in Educational Management, 1997:120)

What is 'teaming'?

How do we create a team?

It is easy to see how established teams work well together (e.g. the sports team). However, today people often have to come together quickly to solve problems.

Business school professor Amy Edmondson studies "teaming," where people come together quickly (and often temporarily) to solve new, urgent or unusual problems. Recalling stories of teamwork on the fly, such as the incredible rescue of 33 miners trapped half a mile underground in Chile in 2010, Edmondson shares the elements needed to turn a group of strangers into a quick-thinking team that can nimbly respond to challenges.

It has some key lessons for all of us as we work with teams:

  • encourage curiosity
  • discover the unique talents, skills and hopes of each member
  • work together with humility

In 5 ways to build a high performance team Joseph Folkman provices the following advice:

  1. Team leaders inspire more than they drive
  2. Team leaders resolve conflicts and increase cooperation
  3. Team leaders set stretch goals
  4. Team leaders communicate, communicate, communicate the vision and direction
  5. Team leaders are trusted

In Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, Kim Farris-Berg, Edward J. Dirkswager, and Amy Junge found that when teachers have collective autonomy to design and run schools, they make decisions that emulate the nine cultural characteristics of high-performing organizations.

The nine characteristics of high-performing organizations are:

  1. Expecting workers to accept accountability for the outcomes of their own decisions.
  2. Seeking clarity and buy-in to a shared purpose, which is made up of a mission, vision, values, goals, and standards of practice.
  3. Establishing a collaborative culture of interdependence characterized by an open flow of ideas, listening to and understanding others, and valuing differences.
  4. Expecting leadership from all and perceiving leadership as a service to all.
  5. Encouraging people to innovate, including trying creative new things, challenging old processes, and continuously adapting.
  6. Establishing a learning culture characterized by a sense of common challenge and discovery rather than a culture where experts impart information.
  7. Learning from and being sensitive to the external environment.
  8. Being engaged, motivated, and motivating.
  9. Setting and measuring progress toward goals and acting upon results to improve performance.

Top supervisors use these 5 strategies to ignite enthusiasm and boost performance.

1. Be a Good Role Model: “An effective supervisor always comes in with a positive attitude and is always ready to help out.”

2. Build Relationships, Boost Retention: The most motivating action supervisors can take is to “catch people doing something right.” “Good team leaders show a personal interest in each associate, remembering details about their lives.”

3. Speak Clearly, Listen Carefully:“A good supervisor must have the vision of what is expected and be able to make the expectations clear.”

4. Coach for Success: Inspirational leaders create a culture of learning. Effective leadership includes both tactical and strategic coaching. “The best supervisors . . . can get their team excited about achieving results.”

5. Optimize Performance: Top leaders know how to turn performance management into a positive and motivating experience.

“It’s probably no secret that the #1 reason for low morale and high turnover is poor supervision. Luckily, the converse is also true. No one has more influence on creating a positive, loyal, collaborative team than the direct supervisor.”

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