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The Five Secrets to High Functioning Teams

My new Band

Just recently I formed a new band. It’s me and 2 other guys. I’m on keys and vocals. Armando, an amiable, lanky 16 year old kid is on drums, and his pal Mark, a soft spoken protege is on lead guitar.

We call ourselves “Generation Gap-”first, both because of the wide span of years between us, and because the songs we play span the late 70’s to early 2017.

But I’m not really here to tell you about my band, or make a plug for our upcoming show.

I’m here to tell you what makes our band work.

I’ve been in a dozen bands, dating back to my early high school years to my early 30’s, with guys from all corners of the globe.

I look back on these bands with positive feelings and good memories.

But this band is different.

We have something special. And it has nothing to do with our level of musicianship or virtuosity. Some of us have been playing our instruments for less than 2 years, while others can’t even read sheet music.

What we have is chemistry. At this point, we’ve had only three practices together, and we're already ready to play our first show in less than a week’s time. That’s special. In other bands, it had taken three hours to master a single song.

Have you ever been a part of a special team? Perhaps you are on one now.

Some of you are part of department level teams, grouped together according to subject matter or teaching content. Others of you are in grade level teams, coming together to look at student progress or common assessments. And others are part of leadership teams, meeting regularly to formulate strategic plans and come to consensus on the direction of the school.

Do you have team chemistry? How well do you “vibe?" Do you have well established norms for how you interact? Are meetings productive? Are you high functioning?

If so, GREAT! I would love to learn your secrets so I can mimic them myself. If not, it’s ok; we are all on a journey to find the elusive elements of team cohesiveness.

And while I will not claim to have come across the answer, I feel I have stumbled upon a few secrets. It’s what allowed our band to experience so much early success. My hope is that by sharing some of these with you, your interdisciplinary teams will strengthen and get lots of things done.

Key #1: Shared Outcome

When our band first got together, we had less than 3 weeks before our first show. Most musicians would find this short window of time to be insane. They might insist we need at least a few months of practice, three to four meetings, studio time and a collection of informal gigs at local coffee shops/open mic nights to prepare. And while I won’t disagree that bands benefit from lengthy amounts of time to practice and build rapport, I will argue that they benefit more from a clear shared outcome.

Our performance provided clear vision and direction for the band right away. Knowing our first show would be held at a coffee shop frequented by bikers, families and active community members, we knew right away the kind of songs we should play. Our deliberation about song choice, solo time, or volume level had less to do with personal preference and all to do with what would be best received by our audience.

Your interdisciplinary teams at school all have the same opportunity. Are your meetings guided by a common outcome you want to achieve- an upcoming event, assessment, off- campus experience, or marketing video? Or are they a collection of “nuts and bolts” item with no driving force behind them.

Framing your discussions and teaming around a clear outcome will help your team function at a higher level.

Key #2: Establish norms based on shared roles and responsibilities

Our band shares a mutual respect. It’s based off of a shared understanding that for us to thrive and gel together, we all have a part to play. It means that we arrive to practice on time with our music printed, having mastered individual parts and solos on our own time. Agreeing to these norms ensures we get the most out of practices with each other.

We also divide responsibilities amongst the group. One band member provides the equipment and sets up studio time; another puts together song arrangements and organizes set lists; and the other works on backing vocals and supporting accompaniments.

Do you have norms and clearly defined roles and responsibilities in your interdisciplinary group? Were you involved in the framing of them?

Norms will help your group honor its purpose and ensure that peoples' insights and contributions are respected.

Key #3: Form a team that compliments each other well

Although we weren’t cognizant of our band mates working styles before forming, we compliment each other extremely well. I’m the action oriented leader who ensures we are taking action and moving forward; Armando, our drummer is the member who ensures the music stays lively, light and fun; and Mark is the supportive guitarist who is the glue that keeps everything together.

our strengths make up for each other’s weaknesses.

We all have our preferred styles of working together that allow our band members’ strengths to make up for our weaknesses.

Does your team compliment each other well? Or is it plagued by too many dominant leader types or silent pacifists.

As we approach the end of the school, you have a great opportunity to form teams in 2017 that compliment each other well.

I suggest starting with an activity that allows each person to analyze how they like to work. The activity has four parts:

  • First, allow participants to analyze how they like to work. There is a compass activity put out by the“Building Intentional Communities” consulting group that asks participants to check descriptions that match them. It asks questions like: Are you a visionary who sees the big picture. Do you like to integrate input from all group members before determining the direction of the group? Do you move carefully and follow procedures and guidelines?

  • After participants have completed the inventory list, ask them to compile answers to find out their preferred style. There are four different styles: North, South, West and East.

  • Next, ask them to meet with members of their direction and discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and what they will need to do to get along with members of other directions.

  • Finally, form a team that includes a member from each direction. This ensures your team compliments each other well.

Key #4: Decision Making Process for mitigating conflict

How do you make decisions when there is conflict in the group? Do you use a process, or does the loudest voice always seem to win?

In our band, we have a diplomatic process called the “tiebreaker.” It’s governed by the most diplomatic member of our band, Mark. Think of him as the ninth member of the supreme court. He’s the person who could swing either way. Ultimately, decision making always lies in his hands. When Armando and I have a disagreement on the set list, song order, or musical parts, Mark is always the voice of reason who lets us know what would work best.

In a band of three, it’s easy to have a tiebreaker.

Not all of you have this luxury. Some of your teams have well beyond three members; all with strong opinions and deep seeded values and beliefs which sometimes run contrary to each other. When making decisions with teams this large, it’s important to have a protocol to help guide your decisions.

Protocols allow your group to move forward even if 100% of people don’t agree with the decision being made. Most importantly, protocols honor the distinct voices in the room- even from the dissenters. Here’s a protocol I like from the School Reform Initiative:

In Closing:

Not all of us have the luxury of choosing the teams we work with. There will always be negative Nelsas who disagree with all ideas we put forward; or loud Lionesses who dominate discussions and silence our voices. I’m sorry I can’t magically rid you of these kinds of group members. But by deciding on clear outcomes, establishing norms for group discussions, learning about work styles that differ from your own, and creating a clear decision making process to mitigate conflict, I can assure you that your group will have greater success.

As always, I’m here to support you in the process. Oh, and if you are interested in coming to our band’s show, it’s this Thursday from 7-8 pm. :)

To your success!

Kyle Wagner

Innovation and School Improvement Coach

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Kyle Wagner
School Transformation and Project- Based Learning Coach

I coach school leaders on how to lead change and improve student learning through simple, innovative srategies and teaming structures.

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