May You Live in Interesting Teams

Working_Together_Teamwork_Puzzle_Concept (1)This year’s LAMSIG Pre-Conference workshop is entitled Effective Teams and Teamwork: building, participating, leading. I am looking forward to it very much – while I am one of the team presenting (the teamwork team?)  I expect to learn a lot from both my co-presenters and also those who attend and offer their experiences and thoughts to the event.

To preview the event slightly, I thought I’d write a little on teamwork and what it involves – why teams are a good thing, what types of tasks in an LTO which are particularly well-suited to teamwork, and a theory about what can help teams to most effectively succeed.

Why work in teams?

Teamwork serves a number of purposes in your organisation. These include:

  1. Teams are greater than the sum of their parts – we’ve all had experiences where we’ve had half an idea and put it forward in a team and someone else has taken it and said “Oh, yes, and if you did this…” and a third person refines it still further. Alone that idea would never have got off the ground. (Senge calls this Team Learning)
  2. Creating teams allows you to build connections across the organisation. Think of a marketing team for example, which included not just marketing staff, but teachers and student support staff. Not only would it provide fresh perspective, but it would also make the relationships between the members stronger
  3. More people become involved with issues that matter to them. People have the chance to contribute, not merely have decisions and changes imposed on them
  4. Change is much more effective when those affected by the change have been involved in creating it (as they would be if there was a team organised to drive the change)
  5. It’s a way of delegating tasks – giving staff opportunities to develop and giving you – the manager – more time to focus on other things

What sort of things lend themselves to teamwork?

Though teamwork is a good idea for the reasons mentioned above, that doesn’t mean that forming teams with no real purpose is wise.  Teams need to have something to work towards, not merely exist for the sake of existing.  Otherwise people will rapidly get fed up of being put into teams.  Just as in the ELT classroom some activities lend themselves to group work, others don’t.

Some decisions and changes that would suit teams in the typical LTO would be:

  • Choosing a new coursebook
  • Writing a new mid-term test for Level x
  • Devising a marketing campaign (I have no idea why so few schools do this, when in teachers, student support staff and receptionists they have so much expertise in what would attract students – and indeed in what the product being marketed actually is)
  • Developing a new course
  • Planning a peer observation scheme
  • Crafting a new performance management system

And, of course, many others

How can teams work together most effectively?

There is a lot written about teams – about the roles people take on in teams (see this Wikipedia article on Belbin for a starting point), about how teams develop and their lifecycle (eg Tuckman’s famous Forming-storming-norming-performing model ), and much more, but for this post I’m going to look at a model designed to help teams work as effectively as possible, developed by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in “The Progress Principle” (2011).

The main idea behind this theory is that people are more productive, more engaged and more creative if they feel they are achieving something (obviously that’s not an earth shattering revelation, but bear with me here).  What this leads to is that teams (and indeed individuals) need to be able to celebrate consistent small victories. They need to feel like they are getting somewhere.  This is based on some fairly extensive research with a large number of people working project teams in different companies who were asked to keep a journal of their team experiences.

Amabile and Kramer then go on to suggest 6 mechanisms that managers can use in order to help their teams achieve these consistent small wins

  1. Set clear goals and objectives

Make sure that what the goal of the team’s work is very clear. Set SMART objectives. If people can see where they are going, it’s easier to see that they’re making progress.

  1. Allow autonomy

While the goals have to be clear, teams (and their members) need to have the freedom to reach those goals in the way they think is best. The more control people have over their work, the more creative and empowered they will feel, and the more they’ll recognise their own achievements. Don’t micromanage!

  1. Provide resources

Make sure the team has what it needs to do the work they have been given. If they don’t have the resources they will likely feel that the task itself is not important. Resources include not only physical things like supplies and technology, but training and support too

  1. Allow ample time

Give the team enough time to do the work (which will also allow them to be creative).  Deadlines which are too tight will result in lower quality work (and less harmonious teams).  However deadlines which are too far off may also be less motivating. So coming up with deadlines which motivate but which do not impede creativity and good quality work is important

  1. Provide support and expertise

Make sure your team has access to support and expertise from outside the team to help them progress with their work when they need it.  As the manager, this will likely include you, but it may also include others. Let those people know that they are expected to be available to help the team if called upon.

  1. Help people learn from “failure”

Sometimes teams don’t succeed in reaching their goal. This may be because they didn’t work very well together or it may be for reasons out of their control. It’s important to work with the team in working out why things didn’t go as planned and discuss what could have been done differently. If teams are punished for honest “failure”, the creativity and motivation in future work will be lost.

These 6 ideas will help the team make meaningful progress. From this it’s then important to routinely celebrate and reward success and achievement.  Encourage teams to keep a record of their achievements so they are not overlooked in the drive to get to the next milestone. Offer recognition for the achievements of the team in staff meetings. If it’s possible to offer small tangible rewards like taking the team out for dinner, or giving them a half day off, for big milestones reached, then do that, but recognition does not have to involve a financial cost.  Often a sincere “Thank You” and clear recognition for the work is enough.

This is one (among many) models of team effectiveness. Why not attend the LAMSIG PCE in Birmingham to learn about others and share ideas with colleagues and peers?

Bibliography

Amabile, T.M. and Kramer, S. (2011) The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Belbin, M.R. and Belbin, R.M.M. (2010) Team roles at work, Second edition. 2nd edn. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Senge, P.M. (2006) The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.
Tuckman, B.W. and Jensen, M.A.C. (1977) ‘Stages of small-group development revisited’, Group & Organization Management, 2(4), pp. 419–427. doi: 10.1177/105960117700200404.
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A Return to Blogging

It has been a very long time since I blogged here, for which many apologies.  I am, though, determined to re-start this blog and to do so on a regular basis.  My plan is to publish something every two weeks on the subject of leadership & management in ELT. And this is a commitment, not a vague spring version of a new year’s resolution.

In order to start on that process, I will post a couple of things that i have had published in various places since I last wrote here, in the hope of enticing all those of you who have so generously followed this page to start checking back.

So, without further ado, here is something I wrote on LAMSIG (the Leadership and Management special interest group) that i am now coordinator of, and how it can be and should be a community of practice for DoSs, Academic Managers, ADoSs Senior Teachers, LTO directors, Principals, School owners and more

You can find this piece, entitled “Where can Academic Managers find support and advice?” here at the British Council’s EnglishAgenda site

Thanks for your patience, and you will now see me much more frequently

LAMSIG news

LAMSIGD04aR04bP01ZL-Jefferson4b_smlGiven how little I update this blog, it may surprise you to learn that I am the man entrusted with keeping the IATEFL Leadership and Management SIG website up to date.  Well, in the not too distant past it has been relaunched, and I’m actually, amazingly, keeping it up to date.  So I thought I would give you a bit of a guided tour because there’s lot of useful stuff for the LTO Manager that can be found there if you know where to look.

LAMSIG home

So, the home page is at http://lamsig.iatefl.org/ which will take you to a page that looks something like the one on the left, though the pictures may be different. At the moment we’ve got photos from our most recent event in Izmir in May.

You’ll notice a series of headers at the top which take your further into the site and reveal some of the exciting content contained therein…

I’ll highlight a couple of these, skipping over some of the less interesting ones such as the “Committee” page where you get to see pictures of me and the rest of the reprobates professionals who make up the committee.

Under Community you can find links to our new LinkedIn group which has already started generating discussions on LTO management questions. If you’re a LinkedIn member, go here to sign up for the group. You can also find pictures form recent events – not only the Izmir conference, but the PCE at the last IATEFL conference in Liverpool.

Under Events, there is information about our upcoming events – next year’s PCE on “Creating a culture of resilience and preventing burn out” in Harrogate for example is listed here.  There are also reviews and links to posts and blogs about past events, as well as a list of Webinars that IATEFL is organising.  We (LAMSIG) will also be organising some webinars, so watch this space.

scoopitPossibly of greatest interest are the links found under Resources.  Here you will find a link to our new ScoopIt page of links, which may be of interest to language teaching managers.  This page, updated very regularly includes lots of links (currently as I write this there are 162) all of which are possibly interesting – some are specifically related to ELT management, while others are more general, but still I think relevant to us.

Below that on the drop down menu is a page entitled “Archived articles” which is a collection of 46 (46!) articles that have appeared at one time or another in the LAMSIG (or ELTMSIG as was) magazine.  This is a hugely useful resource for everyone, I’d say, so please dig in and find things that may be of use to you.

articlesarchiveSo, hope that is of value to you, and hope you get involved with the site and LAMSIG in general.  We’re always open to ideas suggestions, requests, articles, links, ideas, proposals, and so on and so forth.  There is also a twitter account for the SIG : @IATEFL_LAMSIG  and even a facebook page (though to be perfectly honest I’m not quite sure what to do with that – any suggestions gratefully received).