ERIC Identifier: ED391226
Publication Date: 1996-02-00
Author: Oswald, Lori Jo
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Work Teams in Schools. ERIC Digest, Number 103.
"More is better"--this precept lies behind the burgeoning use of work teams
to handle problem-solving and decision-making in schools and school districts.
Teams are said to build stronger relationships among those involved in education
and, ultimately, to benefit students because more people with broader
perspectives help to shape a stronger educational program.
WHY ARE SCHOOLS USING QUALITY WORK TEAMS?
of work teams at the school and district levels stems from education's embracing
of W. Edwards Deming's business-management theories, referred to as total
quality management (TQM). Deming held that managers should treat workers as
partners rather than underlings, for employees will work better together and
feel more empowered. The end result--the product--will ultimately be enhanced by
such a collaborative arrangement, suggested Deming. Putting Deming's philosophy
into practice at the school site is said to reduce competition among individuals
and increase the energy necessary for better learning environments (Yvonne
Siu-Runyan and Sally Joy Heart 1992).
Teams have several positive effects. First, the more people involved in
making a decision, the more likely that decision will be implemented. Second,
team members continually learn from one another's fresh ideas. Third, more and
better information and actions come from a group of people with various
resources and skills. Fourth, there is a better chance that mistakes will be
caught and corrected. And finally, risk-taking is more likely because of the
collective power of the group.
Nancy Vollmer, school-improvement specialist for the Linn-Benton-Lincoln
Education Service District in Corvallis, Oregon, mentions another advantage--a
sense of "teamness" (personal communication, August 14, 1995). When a group
comes together, she explains, "there is that feeling that it can happen," that
the organization can move forward. "All of the sudden there's a flow in the same
direction, there's excitement, there's understanding."
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF TEAMS?
Teams vary in
size, mission, and duration. Two major types of teams are identified by Karolyn
J. Snyder and Robert H. Anderson (1986): permanent teams and temporary teams.
Permanent teams "specialize in a particular function," such as curriculum or
age-level teaching. Temporary teams are "organized for a particular short-term
purpose and are dissolved when the task is completed." It is important to
specify the short- or long-term nature of a team. Nothing can dampen team
members' enthusiasm like feeling obligated to continue meeting after their
mission has been fulfilled.
The most common kind of team at the district level is the management team,
which usually includes the superintendent and other central-office
administrators and possibly a board of education member and principals.
Management teams are responsible for district-wide policies, missions, or
decision-making. The management team might assign specific tasks--such as
revising curriculum--to subcommittees.
Management teams are also found at the school level, but may be called
administrative teams, leadership teams, or site-based councils. These teams
assist principals in decision-making, planning, or problem-solving. Many
subcommittees can exist at the school site, such as goal-setting teams,
outside-school-activities teams, parent-advisory groups, curriculum-development
teams, and the like (Snyder and Anderson).
Vertical teams are also gaining in popularity. Made up of individuals from
different levels of an organization, vertical teams are charged with
accomplishing a task or engaging in planning. The general missions of vertical
teams are consistency and trust-building. Establishing such teams facilitates
"the important exchange of information among individuals who share a common
purpose but operate on different levels and who thus have very different
organizational perspectives," write William G. Cunningham and Donn W. Gresso
WHAT FACTORS ENSURE A QUALITY TEAM?
Two factors are
essential to a quality team: bonding and cohesiveness (Cunningham and Gresso).
Both establish a sense of team culture. "The strength and potential of the
team," write Cunningham and Gresso, "develops once people join together to form
a single, united, and cohesive culture." A team with a strong culture has
several qualities: "purposefulness, pride, confidence, enthusiasm, empowerment,
commitment, loyalty, and satisfaction" (Cunningham and Gresso).
Bonding ensures that team members will commit their time, knowledge, skills,
and energy to the team and its goals, say Cunningham and Gresso. "Bonded" team
members are more enthusiastic, and more loyal to the school and the team.
Members can begin this bonding process during the very first meeting, as they
evaluate their purpose, goals, roles, and individual and group responsibilities.
"Cohesiveness" is defined by Cunningham and Gresso as a "sense of
togetherness, or community, within a group. A cohesive group is one in which
there are incentives for remaining in the group and a feeling of belongingness
and relatedness among the members." Cohesive teams are effective teams.
To promote high-quality communication and cohesiveness, the Institute for
Educational Leadership (1994) offers the following tips: limit talking time by
remembering there are others in the group, don't interrupt, listen actively,
allow others to be silent if they wish but try to elicit their views by asking
questions or inviting their opinions, encourage rather than dominate, offer only
constructive criticism, accept others' opinions even if you don't agree with
them, and support those who are unfairly attacked.
WHAT ARE THE BEST STRATEGIES FOR FORMING A TEAM?
foremost, all team members must clearly understand the team's mission. Members
should be able to answer the question "Why am I here?" says Margot Helphand
(1994). Next, determine team members' roles--especially choosing a facilitator,
a recorder, and a process observer. Other essential steps are to outline
responsibilities of the team and determine team composition, deadlines, and
expected outcomes (Snyder and Anderson).
Hiring a professional to train team members at the outset is a good idea.
Effective teams must be aware of both content (the work they do) and process
(how they structure the work they have to do). "A part of the culture of a group
is to talk about the structure of their work and process," says Vollmer.
Trainers can also enhance team members' understanding of group dynamics and
communication skills. One thing members will learn may surprise them: conflict
can be good. As Ernie R. Keller, a team trainer in the Wasco-Region 9 Education
Service District in The Dalles, Oregon, explains, "Conflict is a powerful
engine. Sometimes the fact that there's a conflict might be the very reason
people show up for a meeting" (personal communication, August 15, 1995). And
conflict often can lead to consensus. Trainers will show teams how and why to
reach consensus, as well as to "respect one another's styles, speak honestly,
and advocate the team's decisions to our constituencies" (Robert Kessler 1992).
WHAT ARE COMMON PROBLEMS TEAMS MUST OVERCOME?
fail, it's usually because of one of five reasons, says Larry Lozette:
*Members don't understand the team's mission.
don't understand their own roles or responsibilities.
don't understand "how to do their tasks or how to work as part of a team."
don't "buy into" the team's "function, purpose, or goals."
"reject their roles or responsibilities."
Many problems begin with poor communication skills of team members. The
Kansas State Board of Education (1992) found that one member can cause problems
by being too negative, refusing to reach consensus, attacking other members
personally, refusing to take the team's tasks seriously, being too boastful or
seeking attention, refusing to participate, or arguing for "only a certain
segment of the school community rather than represent everyone with an interest
in the school."
Initial training and ongoing assessment can help prevent these problems from
occurring. Even if a team does not hire a professional trainer, members can
commit to evaluating their mission and roles during the first meeting. Team
members must be aware of barriers and learn the skills necessary to hold
effective meetings, being a communicative team member, and moving through the
process from being congenial to being collaborative. Although it's premature to
draw a definitive conclusion, those who are using teams generally agree: It's
Cunningham, William G., and Donn W. Gresso. "Cultural Leadership: The Culture of Excellence in Education." Needham Heights,
Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon, 1993. 285 pages. ED 377 582.
Helphand, Margot. "Facilitation for 21st Century School Councils: A Program
for Central Oregon." Sponsored by Oregon Professional Development Center,
Deschutes Educational Service District, Fall 1994. 44 pages.
The Institute for Educational Leadership. "Preparing Collaborative Leaders: A
Facilitator's Guide." Washington, D.C.: The Institute for Educational
Kansas State Board of Education. "School Site Councils for Kansas Schools and
Districts." Topeka, Kansas: Kansas State Board of Education, April 1992. 51
Kessler, Robert. "Shared Decision Making Works!" "Educational Leadership"
50,1 (September 1992): 36-38. EJ 449 916.
Siu-Runyan, Yvonne, and Sally Joy Heart. "Management Manifesto." "The
Executive Educator" 14, 1 (January 1992): 23-26. EJ 439 231.
Snyder, Karolyn J., and Robert H. Anderson. "Managing Productive Schools:
Toward an Ecology." Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Academic Press College