Big Picture Learning – Who’s on the Team?


So, I find myself sitting on The Seattle Great Ferris Wheel, 175 feet above the ground, telling Jen Ghidiu, Regional Director and “research to practice” guru, my story. It was a powerful experience sharing our sources of pride and conviction as the wheel turned, and we hung over Elliott Bay. I learned that this was typical of Jen, trekking through her life with a courageous, can-do spirit, taking in each of life’s lessons like patches on a girls scout vest. We were in Seattle for a BPL Regional Directors Convening or team meeting. Much of our time at the Regional Directors Convening was strategically spent like this, peeling back a few layers of who we are as individuals and who we are as a team. The Eagle Rock Professional Development Center could not have planned and facilitated our time better to capture how critical it is to know the team, access the talent/passions of the team, and how important it is for leaders to master what Glenn Llopis calls the “art of people”.

So who are we? Resumes aside, our team reads like a cast of super heroes. First, there is Dana who can read people and situations like the palm of her hand, effortlessly finding ways to turn problems into opportunities. On the plane ride into Seattle, I sat with Dana and watched as she finessed her four year-old daughter and almost one year-old son with grace, creativity and patience for our 5.5 hour flight (aisle squats to rock one to sleep were included). Then there is Jeff who sits quietly through most of the sessions, writing, drawing, thinking. When he finally opens his mouth, out spews a master plan capturing what was said, implied, questioned and understood in a simple clear line. It reminds me of the tranquil view that awaits you when you enter his home, and the ease at which he orchestrated a home-cooked meal for eight. Next is Jen who runs circles around ideas lighting fire and passion as she goes (hence, why I was on a ferris wheel). She matches risk-taking with calculated analysis and measure, as she chooses to skip the photo op demanded by the ferris wheel sales agent and focuses on the journey. And finally, Javier who is unafraid to cut to the heart of the matter, pushing us thoughtfully to center, as his ideas roll out of him like poetry, heartfelt, in-tune and confident. He has this way of connecting with people that leads you to a finger-snapping applause.

In his article entitled “6 Ways Successful Teams are Built to Last,” Forbes contributor, Glenn LLopis suggests that leadership is the secret sauce. While there is no surprise here, he outlines six actions, hinged on relationship and communication that are easily understated in our day-to-day work. Below are questions to guide or challenge your thinking about building a successful team.

1. Be aware of how you work

Llopis points out how critical it is to know yourself and the influence this has on your leadership.

  • When is the last time you asked the team to evaluate you?
  • When is the last time you have evaluated yourself?
  • How have you changed to be a better leader?
  • How do you encourage the team to self-reflect?

2. Get to know the rest of the team

I found it interesting that Llopis used “the” team and not “your” team. It suggests that leaders see themselves as members of the team, not superior to it.

  • How often do you intentionally plan for team building with the team? Are you involved?
  • How often do you engage in one-on-one meetings to support individuals on the team?
  • Can you list the talents and hidden talents of each member? Have they capitalized on these talents?
  • Does the culture encourage the team to be themselves?

3. Clearly define role and responsibilities

“A team should operate as a mosaic whose unique strengths and differences convert into a powerful united force.”

  • How are you cultivating this (defining roles with and not for others, while holding expectations for performance)?
  • How do you develop a culture where you can share expectations and not simply, set them?
  • How can you create space where roles and responsibilities are clear, but not stagnant; where people are compelled to ask questions, self-regulate and initiate new ideas?

4. Be proactive with feedback

State regulations and district policies mandate that we provide feedback, but, if led by this, feedback and communication will be threating or daunting at best. “It should be something that is part of one’s natural dialogue. Feedback can be both formal and informal. In fact, if it becomes too structured and stiff, it becomes difficult for the feedback to be authentic and impactful.”

  • How is a culture of authentic learning (amongst the team) cultivated, so that it feels less like “feedback” and more like dialogue?
  • Where have you been proactive in offering feedback?

5. Acknowledge and reward

“At a time when people want to feel as if they are making a difference, be a thoughtful leader and reassure your team that you are paying attention to their efforts. Being genuine in your recognition and respect goes a long way towards building loyalty and trust. It organically ignites extra effort! When people are acknowledged, their work brings them greater satisfaction and becomes more purposeful.” ‘Nuff said!

  • To what do you pay attention? Is this the most important stuff to “sweat”?
  • Does the team feel respected and acknowledged?
  • How can acknowledgement that leads to greater satisfaction be a reality in your school?

6. Always celebrate success

“In today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing world of work, people are not taking enough time to understand why they were successful and how their success reverberated and positively impacted those around them. I have seen leaders fall into the trap of self-aggrandizement – because of what their teams accomplished – rather than celebrating the success stories that in many cases required tremendous effort, sacrifice and perseverance.”

  • When does the team reflect upon and then celebrate their accomplishments?
  • How is success communicated?

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