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Instructional Strategies Designed to Develop Trust and Team Building Skills in School Leaders

Module by: Virgil Freeman. E-mail the author

Summary: This paper will provide readers with insight into "Team Building and Decision-Making" curriculum methods and strategies utilized in leadership for our administrators. The content is based on "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable" by Lencioni (2002). The writer is working on developing a unique cascade of activites designed to reduce team dysfunctions through trust and skill building.

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Note:

This module has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and sanctioned by the National Council of the Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a scholarly contribution to the knowledge base in educational administration.

An abundance of information has been provided about team building, team dynamics, effectiveness of teams, and team decision-making. Research studies, journal articles, books, and websites are available to enhance one’s knowledge about team topics. One such work is “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni (2002), which serves as the foundation for this paper.

Henry Ford, on teamwork, had the belief that coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. This certainly plays into consideration when we talk about team building. Not only must administrators be individuals who “constantly examine the school’s culture and work to transform it into one hospitable to sustained human learning” (Barth, 2002, p.11), they must also serve as communicators in helping to identify and articulate a vision (Leithwood & Riehl, 2005) and work through a process of distributed leadership to collaboratively attain meaningful goods (Spillone, 2006).

Lencioni states that five dysfunctions are uncovered during the group’s interactions and exchanges at their executive retreats, weekly staff meetings, and face-to-face conferences with the CEO (Lencioni, 2002). The first dysfunction is Absence of Trust. Lencioni describes trust as “the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group; in essence, teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another” (Lencioni, 2002, p.195)

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Lencioni suggests several ways to overcome Dysfunction #1. He has several activities to begin to build trust among team members. Personal histories and warm-up activities are key to the trust building process. A low risk activity that can be used for warm-up activities is known as “High Points.” A high point is defined as any high positive experience one remembers. Trust can be enhanced when the strengths, weaknesses, and experiences of team members are known. The leader’s role in building team trust is to display vulnerability, in order to encourage risk taking. Trust-based vulnerability is critical to a team’s ability to function well.

Fear of Conflict is Dysfunction #2. In Lencioni’s book, Kathryn pointed out to her staff that their meetings were pretty boring and non-productive. No one could really disagree with this assessment. The primary reason is the fear of conflict. When team members trust each other, they tend to engage in lively discussions and arguments around the issues that confront the team as a whole. Constructive conflict is significantly different from that filled with sarcasm.

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Nobody likes conflict, but conflict is inevitable during human interaction. Lencioni goes so far as to suggest that it is even critical for effective team development. An activity call, Team Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, is designed to assist team members in developing ground rules for effective team operation. The purpose of this activity is to construct rules and strategies by which group members interact during meetings. The role of the leader is especially tricky because the leader wishes for conflict, yet needs to protect each member from personal harm. Demonstrating restraint and allowing resolution to occur without interventions is the key leader role.

Lack of Commitment is Dysfunction #3. Generally speaking, most teams desire to reach a consensus and assure that decisions are correct before implementation. However, Lencioni points out that these are the two greatest causes of lack of commitment. Most adults are aware that reaching consensus on difficult issues is nearly impossible. One of the purposes of an effective team is to assure that all ideas have been seriously considered. This tends to create willingness for the team to quickly support decisions, even though it may not be the right one

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To overcome Dysfunction #3, a basic means to deal with lack of commitment is to apply decision-making strategies as described within quality management literature. These efficient tools, when used as focusing lenses, allow people to passionately debate and then weigh in on a decision. Misconception and misunderstanding can be clarified. The role of the leader implementing a decision to which all may not concur and without complete data places a leader in a rather uncomfortable position. While certainty and consensus are important, they are not as crucial as closure and meeting the established deadlines. The leader must continue to follow up to assure that schedules are kept.

Dysfunction #4 is Avoidance of Accountability. Accountability is a relatively new concept within to educational community; however it is a new reality. Effective teams likewise are those that hold themselves accountable according to Lencioni (2002). However, Lencioni points out that these are two general causes for a lack of team member accountability: 1) an unwillingness of team members to tolerate interpersonal discomfort and 2) a general avoidance of difficult discussions.

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To overcome Dysfunction #4, Lencioni suggests that the best form of team accountability is peer to peer accountability. The leader is challenged to allow the team to serve as the “accountability police,” rather than giving the impression to the team that he/she is holding everyone accountable. Team members then are responsible for discipline of their colleagues in order to assure that projects remain on tack. At the same time, however, the leader must continue to serve as the final arbiter.

Dysfunction #5 is Inattention to Results. Overlooking collective goals and focusing on individual results are the major causes of teams falling apart. Clearly defined outcomes will serve as a guiding light to keep the team members concentrating on why they are working as a team. Status is an enemy of collective results. Some will tend to stray from the slated mission of teamwork and wish to advance their own skills. This will cause a breakdown of the team.

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To overcome Dysfunction #5, Lencioni believes that publicly declaring results leads to team commitment and a focus on team outcomes. Whereas many leaders believe that tying rewards to achievement of goals is often an effective way to direct attention on results, sole reliance on this method, however, can lead to difficulties. It is suggested that a systematic program of team development and team building can help team members focus their attention on organizational results and way from personal outcomes.

In overcoming Dysfunction #5, the leader must continually focus on team outcomes in order to send an important message to the team. If the leader is perceived as focusing on anything else, this may distract the team from their mission.

In summary, effective teams are based on trust by being vulnerable, embracing conflict when it comes, holding people accountable for their behaviors, making a commitment to excellence, and focusing on the big picture.

References

Barth, R. (2001). The culture builder. Education Leadership, 59(8), 6-12.

Leithwood, K. A. & Riehl, C. (2005). What do we already know about educational leadership? In Firestone, W.A. & Riehl, C. (Eds). A New Agenda for Research in Educational Leadership, 12-27. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Spillone, J. P. (2006). Distributed Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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