Thursday, 26 March 2015

"Are you in a good mood or should we avoid you completely?" The Science of the good team

I really didn’t like him as a player.  I couldn’t abide him, even when he played for England.  It was never open dislike, it was begrudging, even deferential acknowledgement that my mighty Villa did not possess anyone with the passion, skill and determination as he did throughout a highly successful career.  Yes, I openly admit it: I used to hate Gary Neville. 

However, now he is a pundit and a columnist in the Telegraph (other Saturday sports pages are available, but “why” I don’t know) I have to confess I have an enormous amount of respect for him and his opinion.  I enjoy watching him as a pundit who doesn’t spare any punches – including in the direction of his beloved united.  Moreover, I love reading his take on the modern game, and his interpretation of how the game is developing. 

Recently, he has had much to say on the creation and sustenance of teams; what occurs when teams go through a massive change process, and how they re-attain their previous dizzy heights.  He manages to couple business phraseology (such as the old form – storm – norm – perform soundbite) with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the game and his own brand of northern philosophy.  Within these pieces, he has made some points that have really set me to thinking, because this is something that has been in the forefront of my mind for some time.

When I get asked, which I regularly do (because headteachers have very limited conversation skills) how things are going, I often give a trite or blasé answer (because I have even more limited conversational skills).  When asked this at the excellent PHAB conference last week (more of this later) I gave an answer very off the cuff but very earnest.  Gary Neville-esque you might say.  I said, waiting interminably for coffee “It is just about the best team I have put together so far.” 
I realised that this thought had been crystallizing in the crazy landscape of my mind for some time.  

Since January, I have been struck time and again by the ways in which a team forms and starts to take shape, and the habits and actions that occur when that team is starting to perform to the very best of its collective abilities.

Work teams are little different from sports teams in essence.  True enough, there are no shorts to worry about, and schools, by and large, don’t have a Portuguese physio ready to run on when someone hurts their interactive whiteboard dragging finger.  However, teams in all disciplines exhibit fairly similar traits, with subject specific nuances, in all walks of team life.

Successful teams, and their members, work well together without knowing it.  They come to each other’s aid without a request, and they complement one another’s skills and talents without worrying about its weaknesses.  Successful teams achieve great outcomes without asking “Who did that?” but by celebrating shared successes and saying quietly, almost in awe of itself, “We did that”. 

When I have reflected on this, stuck in a traffic Jam on my way back from #phab15 (yes, I’m getting there) I realised that our school has been full of these signs for some time now.  Even more than this, I felt more proud of the fact that I can’t really take credit for it, but it is the collective will of the core of this team that must take the plaudits. 

I reflected on a number of key incidents, which may, taken in isolation, not mean too much.  
However, look at them as a collective, as a series of events, actions and habits that take place on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

I reflected on how, when a vulnerable child had a real moment recently, I was called to assist only to find 3 people already there, dealing with it with far greater skills and aplomb than I ever could.  Within a short space of time, a child who was swearing and spitting was sitting on the sofa reading a book to his teacher.

I reflected on how people came forward to volunteer to be guinea pigs for our new assessment system, thus putting their hand up for MORE work.  Furthermore, how some of my youngest team members are coming to ask would I mind terribly if they did a staff meeting.

Last night in a staff meeting with most of the governors present, we had what to all intents and purposes was a contentious debate.  However, no-one left feeling disgruntled or offended.  Everyone left thinking “Okay, how do we improve on that then?”

During twilight training sessions recently, a whole gang of the team order take away, which they then shared, including with the trainers who said “Really? You got pizza?  Really?”

I thought about how I no longer need to set or impose the standard we have agreed on without discussing it; instead, two members of staff have told a new addition “He won’t stand for it you know, you need to put the effort in”.  Needless to say said person has put some hours in this week.  A lot.

Probably the most telling was how the entire team is worried – deliberate choice of word – about the team’s success, and keen to share, not take, any forthcoming plaudits.  We had a big visit today.  
After I shook hands and waved the visitor off, who was waiting for me?  Our NQT, the least experienced member of our team, who tried to gauge my feelings and the outcomes by trying to work out if it was thumbs up or down.  (It was a big thumbs up.) 

It was the same in the staffroom, where everyone – from our oldest teachers to our youngest LSAs and some teacher training students - wanted to know.  “Are you in a good mood or should we avoid you completely?” one asked, the one who takes my phone every Friday to fill in our twitter record of praise assemblies.  Everyone in the room smiled; they already knew the answer, but wanted to give me an entrée to make the announcement. 

Last week, when my deputy and I were at PHAB 15, a truly exciting and inspirational conference, and the first time we had left the baby with sitters, what reassured us the most was the unfailing willingness of the whole team to support the leaders-for-the-day, and do jobs and roles above and beyond the call in every sense imaginable.

Good teams also know when a member needs to be alone.  Several of our team – yours truly included - enjoy a headphone moment.  No-one takes umbrage at this, but we all appreciate that some of the members of the team need to return to the solace of their caves from time to time.

There are negative indicators however, but you have to take them as a kind of compliment.  You know you have a good team growing when you have someone who arrives and tries to take on the team – sometimes subconsciously – by challenging the team without any personal credibility, by putting themselves above the needs of the team.  Everyone, even the leaders, need to acknowledge that they play their part, not spurn their chance to do so.

The next level of building any team is the outcome; successful teams are magnetic, and the draw and attract more and more positive energy.  As a result, we have a growing army of volunteers with the amazing Buddies of Badock’s, a staff team that is as big as it has ever been, former colleagues attempting to return to the fold, and a school that continues to grow and grow.  The result is infectious.  And addictive.

So when we get big calls from big visits on big days like today, it is only right that the team takes the collective glory.  Every member of the team today deserves more than their fair quotient of glory in which to bask over the break, and I hope they love it.  Because in term 5 and 6, this team could achieve more than it ever has before.

That is … nearly all.

I just wanted to mention my last blog (  Many people have taken the time to ask me “Are you okay?” as a result of my last set of emumbling.  I am so sorry if it sounded negative or self-pitying, that was never my intention. My mum and dad always told me to say please and thank you, so:

Please don’t worry about me, I am having the time of my life with this team


Thank you so much for caring; it is appreciated.

And the petition still strolls on, by all accounts…

That is, with a lot of gratitude for our stunning team, all.