Team Building for Educators

Is teaching a class that much different from leading a team?

A 2010 article in Psychology Today makes a good argument for the idea that teachers are really “leaders in disguise”. Leaders and teachers both have to be positive role models, inspire their followers/students, provide individualized consideration, and engage the minds and hearts of their followers/students.

Team building has increasingly become a key part of leadership. It seems that most leaders in corporate organizations are aware of, and believe in, the value of team building efforts.

But if teachers are truly “leaders in disguise”, why do we so rarely talk about the value of team building in the world of education?

The ability to work in teams has become increasingly valuable in the workforce over the past decade. In fact, Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey found that top companies in the world are pushing towards team-centric models, thus, the ability to work in small, cohesive teams is becoming more valuable than ever before.

As educators who strive to prepare our students to succeed in the world of work in the future, it is now our responsibility to teach our students how to work effectively in teams. But how do we do that?

I believe that teachers should model team leadership.

When the class becomes a high performing team, students can experience first-hand what it feels like to be a part of successful team. When they’re given other opportunities to work in a team in the future, they’ll know what they should strive for. They’ll be prepared to recreate the successful team leadership they observed in their teacher.

This is no walk in the park, I know. But perhaps the insight that we’ve garnered studying work teams may help us in this endeavor.

One of the most important characteristics of high performing teams (as I discussed in previous blogs) is psychological safety. As in successful teams, students should feel like they’re safe to express their perspectives, share concerns, and ask questions. I recognize that realizing this ideal is not easy, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile endeavor. Perhaps individual relationships with students may be a good place to begin. As Amy Edmondson suggests, acknowledging your own fallibility, and modeling curiosity as the educator may help as well.

Another key component of team performance is structure and clarity. In an earlier post, I shared the power of establishing a ‘group agreement’ for ensuring teams have a unified vision, common values and norms, and clear individual expectations. This can be a powerful tool for educators to ensure that the classroom environment has structure and clarity as well.

Now there are many other teambuilding activities, strategies and insights out there that can be beneficial for educators as well. The important idea to hold on to, though, is this: leadership and team research is just as relevant and applicable to a teacher as it is for the head of a human resources department in a major corporation.

Having an opportunity to be a part of a classroom that functions like a high performing team will may just set students up for a lifetime of success in the workplace.