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May 04, 2006

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." Helen Keller

Hello again,

The teacher alone in front of a group has a star role but within the school is just one of a team. It's important to get your team all pulling together, being mutually supportive and furthering the aims of the school. An effective team is one that shares goals, understands and values the roles of its members and cooperates willingly. A team that is functioning well will thus work hard, be self-motivated, share responsibilities, and actively seek solutions to problems. But the team needs nurturing—it won’t necessarily jell by itself. When we hire a new member of the teaching or admin staff ...

... we usually focus on the qualities of the individual. Once the appointment has been made, however, we mustn’t just sit back see what happens. Each addition to the staff will have an impact on the team as a whole and this is where some conscious team-building helps.

Meetings are useful for team building, especially if you can bring together groups—team islands—that work in separate spheres. It is too easy for rifts to grow between admin and academic staff so inclusive meetings help show the groups the importance of the work they each do and to understand each other’s methods. But a word of warning. Meetings must be purposeful. Most people are busy and they will resent having to come to meetings that achieve nothing. Preparing the ground for fruitful meetings includes finding out if people want to meet regularly or on an ad hoc basis, agreeing clear objectives, and setting (and keeping to) timetables.

Social activities are also useful for team-building because they help break down barriers and encourage the staff to see each other in non-work roles. Much will depend on what is appropriate locally but social events such as picnics, country rambles, taking in part in light-hearted sporting activities such as ten-pin bowling are easy to organize and help people bond.

Keep a watchful eye for negative team influences. Some people feel threatened when new staff are hired. Help prevent this by having team members on the selection panel and making sure existing staff know you appreciate their contribution. If you have cynical team members who constantly cast doubts and see only negative aspects, make sure they are not allowed to express these ideas unchallenged. Some people are reticent by nature or by cultural conditioning—think of ways to encourage them to contribute ideas discreetly so that they are not daunted by having to speak up in a group. You could ask them to submit agenda items in writing or allow people to submit written reports that can be circulated before the meeting.

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