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:
- 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)
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- 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.
- 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!
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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?