Team Effectiveness: How to Get It!

Business high-fiveHow does a team become high-performing and most importantly how do they stay there? When in place, these five attributes of high-performance can make a high-performing team a reality.

  1. Working Agreements – Whether they are called Norms, Agreements, or Covenants to Excellence, the team is intentional about the development of working agreements. The hallmark; however, is that they hold themselves accountable for the norms. Knowing that conflict is inevitable when change is required, they plan for and anticipate how they will deal with conflict or different points of view when they show up.
  2. Full Presence – Team members set aside distractions to be fully present for the work. They listen – really listen to one another, creating containers for thinking about options and possibilities before making the final decision.
  3. Value for diversity of thought – Not only is it valued and appreciated; the team intentionally seeks different points of view as an expectation of how they uncover their best thinking. Combined with number two above, this attribute opens the door for new thinking, for out-of-the-box thinking, and for hearing all points of view prior to decision making. Typically, the first five to ten ideas that are generated will be the usual way of thinking about something. When a group commits to go beyond, they often will uncover a new or novel idea for team consideration.
  4. Presume positive intent – With the brain’s natural tendency to go negative before positive, this practice creates the opportunity for new wiring in the brain. High-performing teams practice generating all the positives about a concept or idea before consideration of “what if this”, “that won’t work”, or “we’ve tried that.” They practice the genius of “AND” over the thought stopper of “BUT!” This attribute presumes positive intent about one another – believing the best in others.
  5. Work for the greater good – Successful teams focus on a higher purpose. In our case, that means what is best for students. It also means checking my agenda or ego at the door in favor of the reason we are all here in the first place – the success of our students.

On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), how does your team score on these five attributes of a high-performing team? In what ways would you like to see your team take it to the next level?

By Karen Anderson, PCC

Team Effectiveness: Life or Death

Conversation 2“Houston: We have a problem!” What if the effectiveness of your team were a life or death situation like the Challenger disaster? What if your team knew there was an “o-ring” flaw in some aspect of teaching and learning and you failed to address it?

While some would say that our work as educators does not hold the urgency of life or death, it does have severe implications for the lives of the children we serve. One of the outcomes of the study of the Challenger crash was an awareness that teams knew of the danger and failed to speak or do anything about it.

Considering that teams are the way we work in schools, what do you know that needs to be spoken or accomplished on behalf of kids?

In their book, The Wisdom of Teams, Katzenback and Smith state that unsuccessful teams lack discipline and a performance focus. Their message is that “team performance results from adherence to a basic discipline with rigor and consistency by all team members.”

One assumption they challenge is that any small group can be a team for any purpose provided the right leader is picked. Rather their experience indicates, “the leader is less important than a clear compelling performance challenge that results in mutual accountability.” Further, “team performance is a function of consciously making a few critical choices rather than leaving it to instinct and chance.”

The power and potential of team can be missed in the simplicity of how Helen Keller describes it. “Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much!” In this day and age, it seems that educators who are taking Helen Keller’s quotation to heart as a way of accomplishing their work, are the ones outperforming all others. Whether it’s a grade level, a department, a PLC, or a school improvement team, those who have a culture of collaboration are achieving more.

One such team of sixth grade teachers accepted the challenge of finding a way to help their students perform successfully in mathematics as measured by the state assessment. Putting their heads together to define the process and identify strategies for higher levels of thinking for problem solving resulted in 100% mastery across all six classes of sixth graders . . . year after year after year. The process was first adopted across the campus and then throughout the district as a model of collaboration and an example of what a community of adult learners can do.

They did just what Katzenback and Smith described above. Because the very nature of the work was, in and of itself, a compelling performance challenge . . . one with such high stakes that mutual accountability was non-negotiable, every step was intentional, leaving nothing to chance. When something did not work as planned, they would spin on a dime – huddle, strategize, implement, assess, and move forward. Each and every child was monitored for success. No one slipped through the cracks – students or adults.

What is the compelling performance challenge for your team and how do you hold yourselves mutually accountable?

By Karen Anderson, PCC

Belonging Goes a Long Way on the Road to Improvement!


One Principal, who recognizes the importance of belonging as a key strategy for improvement in his school, works to create opportunities for frequent and regular conversation with and between staff and students. He believes the synergy that comes from collaborative work will accelerate progress in the school. He believes leadership is convening; that small groups are the unit of transformation, and that questions are more important than answers.

What do you believe? How do you use daily conversations to contribute to the healthy community in which you live and work?

Karen Anderson, PCC

Being Contagious Makes You and Your School Better

What principal would not want high quality instruction in every classroom of the school EVERY day of the year?  That means even when holidays are coming, testing is nearing, there are only 15 days between one break and another, or the end of the year is in sight.  Every minute is precious learning time!

That is exactly what Angie believed as she noticed that the quality of lesson planning was dipping to an all time low as the second semester of school was beginning.  She resolved to do something about it!

When her coach asked what criteria had been articulated as expectations for high quality lesson planning, there was an extended pause.  Angie immediately recognized the issue.  Her articulated expectations had been about the logistics of lesson planning – do them, address all curricular areas, complete them online every week by Monday at 8:00 a.m.

What she wanted was to return to the standards and expectations for her desired outcome –evidence of regular and consistent high quality lesson planning.  Quickly she developed four measures for her goal that she would address in her faculty meeting scheduled for that very afternoon.

  1. Meets student needs
  2. Aligns with the district scope and sequence
  3. Offers sufficient detail for others to successfully teach it (including me)
  4. Matches what I see when I come into your classroom.

It was in response to the question, “How will you monitor implementation of this best practice strategy?” that Angie got to the crux of her plan. She wanted to ensure there was a balance of tension and support in her follow up behaviors to get what she wanted.  Previously, she had offered no feedback to teachers’ lesson plans.  Reflective feedback was what Angie identified as the means to her end.  She had previously learned there were three options for reflective feedback – ask clarifying questions, offer value potential statements, or ask reflective questions for possibility.  She knew the attributes of the questions were that they were open-ended rather than “Yes/No”, they presumed positive intent, and they promoted the thinking of the other person.

She committed to the accomplishment of a new goal – “owning the skill” of reflective feedback because she believed it would provoke her teachers’ thinking around quality lesson planning.  She also believed it held the greatest potential for stretching her teachers who already went above and beyond the standard.

Toward this end, she collected samples of the exact reflective feedback language she used with teachers on the current week’s lesson plans and brought it to the coaching conversation for discussion and improvement.  Her reflection was that value potential statements were easy for her and that the reflective questions for possibility were where she wanted to focus her attention.  She also noted that she was creating a response pattern of extending a value potential statement as a lead in to a reflective question.  For example,

  • For a strong teacher who goes above and beyond, she asked, “The format of your lesson plans (Today the student will . . .) shows that you are thinking deeply about the lessons you will be teaching.  Knowing you are trying something new, what are the anticipated results of this new format?”
  • Another time she wanted to “hold up the expectation” to give a little nudge.  So she asked, “Knowing your students so well, what differentiation strategies are you thinking you want to try?”  She wanted this to support the teacher in considering important measures for a high quality lesson.
  • For the teacher who submitted incomplete lesson plans, she offered this feedback, “As you compare your lesson plans to the articulated standards and expectations for high quality, what are you thinking will be your next steps to meet these expectations?”  This would help the teacher focus her thinking about next steps.

Angie was energized. “I can’t wait to practice my reflective feedback today!”  Imagine the growth of Angie’s staff AND the contagiousness of her own enthusiasm by leading in such a proactive way!

by Karen Anderson, PCC,
Coaching for Results Global

10 Ways To Build Trust

One thing we know for sure – high levels of trust are necessary for high levels of performance!   The research findings of Megan Tschannen-Moran clearly support this assertion.  Coach leaders who have internalized this premise are intentional about employing trust-building strategies on a daily basis.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Make relationships a priority. We are in the people business and relationships are everything.  Treat them as such.  Susan Scott reinforces this concept in her book, Fierce Conversations when she says, “The conversation is the relationship.”
  2. Show personal regard. Invest time in personally knowing others . . . their hopes, fears, and dreams, what they care deeply about.  It can be as simple as speaking to someone about her grandchildren, acknowledging the college from which someone has graduated, or asking about a sick child.  It might also include knowing that I love chocolate, giving me a pat on the back for a job well done, asking my opinion about something important to the school, or dropping me a note of appreciation for being a masterful educator.
  3. Make daily deposits. Relational trust is built on a day-to-day basis.  It’s the small things that make a BIG difference.  Find authentic ways to make deposits into my emotional bank account every day.
  4. Be a committed listener. Offer full presence to others.  Listen twice as much as you speak as suggested by the fact that we have two ears and one mouth.  It is a gift that people are hungry for.
  5. Keep your promises. When you say you will do something, do it without fail.  This demonstrates your trustworthiness and integrity which opens the door for even greater trust in the relationship.
  6. Use reflective feedback. The language we use is a signal of trust in the relationship.  Choosing to offer feedback that is reflective in nature, delivers the message AND enhances the relationship.  It clarifies, acknowledges the value potential, and promotes the thinking of the receiver as one considers additional possibilities and options for future action.
  7. Promote thinking rather than advice giving. David Rock’s book, Quiet Leadership, asserts that the best way to improve the performance of another is to improve his thinking.  Asking reflective questions over telling mediates the thinking of the other person, creating new hardwiring that substitutes short-term solutions for long-term capacity building.
  8. Articulate expectations and standards. Be clear about what you expect with regard to performance.  What are the drop dead essentials for working in your school or district?  In what ways do you communicate these essentials to those who are most affected?
  9. Trust others. As ironic as this may seem, increasing our own trust of others, can build trust.  Presume positive intent by believing that they “can do!”
  10. Celebrate successes. Say “thank you” on a regular basis to individuals as well as the collective group.  We all “crave” recognition and want to know that we are doing something worthwhile and doing it well.

While this may sound like good common sense, we know that common sense is often not common.  Putting these strategies into practice requires our constant intention, commitment, and focus. How will you intentionally build trust in your relationships with others on a daily basis?  What are your top ten ways to build trust?

By Karen Anderson, PCC
Coaching for Results Global