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Putting the Function Back into Dysfunctional Teams

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Recently a superintendent friend was complaining about how one school board member harped endlessly about nickel and dime expenses, ignoring the legitimate needs of students and staff. It was driving her crazy! How could she get this school board refocused on what was truly important for education?

She had been reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni. He says that one thing that well functioning teams do is to focus on achievement of collective goals. Such discussions give people a sense of connection and belonging, which ultimately makes them better team members.

So instead of amassing a mountain of data to counter minor budget positions, this superintendent tried something different. She started the meeting with a conversation about what goals they had in common for their work. She asked, “What does a ‘quality education’ look like to you as a board?

As the discussion continued, she probed more. “At the end of the school year, what do you want the community to say about the work of this board as it relates to supporting a ‘quality education’?”

The effect was amazing! They listened to each other. They spoke from the heart. They talked about what they valued. They were respectful of each other for it is hard to be nasty to someone who has just spoken about deeply held ideas.

Slowly the board began to put the budget minutia in its proper prospective. Through the conversation they discovered that while budgets are important, setting direction for student learning and staff instruction are higher priorities in creating a “quality education.”

“Balcony view” discussions help individuals connect greater meaning and purpose for the work of their team. They start with a thought-provoking question that gets team members thinking about the bigger goal, the greater purpose, the deeper meaning. They engage people’s hearts as well as their minds, and result in better communication and cooperation, to reach the common goal.

What has been your experience in having “balcony view” discussions with dysfunctional teams?

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