The scene in July 1776 Philadelphia was heavy with drama and import for sure. The delegates at the Second Continental Congress had finally reached consensus about seeking the thirteen colonies’ separation from England. It hadn’t been easy to reach agreement and it had to be difficult to sign Jefferson’s newly composed Declaration of Independence for doing so marked oneself for capture and punishment by the British who certainly had no intention to let their colonies go gently into the night.
The story goes that when it came time for Benjamin Franklin to sign his name to the Declaration of Independence he said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
The message behind Franklin’s assertion was clear: If any of us (the colonies) show weakness, or reluctance, let alone either a measure of discontent or a lack of total support for the collective decision, the entire move toward the colonies’ freedom from Great Britain would suffer and likely collapse.
Now fast forward to the nearest faculty room. It’s the morning after a Shared Decision Making Team meeting. Joe the Math teacher fills his coffee cup prior to his class. He looks over at Bob, a new math teacher who has been “drafted’ to be a member of the school’s Shared Decision Making slash School Improvement team.
It might be surprising that Joe would even know that the Shared Decision Making team in that school had met. But the new principal in contrast to the old one under whom Joe had worked for years, placed a great deal of emphasis on collaborative leadership and shared decision making practices. These were highlighted at faculty meetings and some of their initiatives had actually become the “law of the land”.
So to be polite, he said to Bob. “How did yesterday’s Shared Decision Making meeting go? Anything interesting?”
Bob, the rookie had joined the Shared Decision Making team because he felt he had to. He didn’t particularly understand its purpose. But it was a way to show professional service to the school and its activities helped him understand how the school functioned on the students’ behalf.
Yesterday’s meeting had been a particularly animated. The principal had presented data about students’ performance that showed a downward trend in a number of academic skills and content areas. The team used root cause analysis strategies to drill down to what they thought might be driving these trends. Several causes were assessed .
Several member teachers noted that the school day had become plagued by many interruptions. More so, it was difficult to have all the students in the class present at the same time because so many students were being pulled for remedial, gifted, and music instruction during the day.
As the members used Five Why techniques to distill what this issue actually reflected. The group agreed that a root cause need was to increase instructional time on task.
Various ideas were considered. Some were good but financial restrictions and teacher contract language made them difficult if not impossible to adopt.
Then, Mary the English teacher suggested that the group consider a homework policy where a minimum expectation of time spent on homework would be required and ratcheted up per grade. The basic premise behind this, Mary said, would be to afford students time on task that they may be missing during the actual day.
For sure, the group didn’t immediately rally round this suggestion. YES-BUTS bounced among stakeholders but in the end the group began to center on this as a viable initiative. Sam, the group’s facilitator looked at the several members. He searched their faces for doubt and or buy -in. He noted Bob’s puzzled expression.
“Bob, you recognize how this idea is meant to increase students’ time on task in order to get deeper into their content and skills mastery?”
“Sure I see the need to do this Sam. But I also see how making a policy could be ineffective if we try to cookie cutter a uniform expectation of time commitment.”
Mary responded. “Well Bob, I think we will have to pay attention to the concerns you raised. But I wouldn’t want the baby thrown out with the bath water by dropping the whole proposal. We can put the policy in place on a pilot basis and iron out kinks as they present themselves.”
The rest of the group nodded in approval at Mary’s suggestion. Sam then asked the entire group if there was consensus to pilot a homework policy.
Each stakeholder raised their hands. Bob, did too, but only after what seemed like a minute of deeper thought.
Sam turned to the principal. ” Ms. Smith, could you take steps to formulate a pilot policy with some implementation guidelines for us at the next meeting?”
Ms. Smith said “Certainly, perhaps you could appoint a sub group of the whole to offer specific input to do this and I will also seek some more input from staff members as I develop a roll out process”
The meeting had adjourned at that point. Bob left too. But he hadn’t left his doubts at the door. He had “voted” on the consensus but he certainly was no rabid die hard supporter of the proposal.
So here is how he answered, ” I have to tell you, the meeting went on and on. As usual Mary was trying to dominate the conversation with her grand ideas. We started to talk about a mandatory minimum amount of time to do homework that would go up for each grade level. I understood what they were trying to solve but I was uncomfortable with the idea since there were too many variables that they hadn’t thought about it. I gave my opinion but on one really listened to the new guy on the block and I could also tell that Ms. Smith was in support of it. So, I voted for it even though I don’t particularly like it.”
“Aha”, thought Joe the Math Teacher, “Bob the rookie doesn’t particularly like the team’s decision and I certainly don’t either.”
And herein lies Lencioni’s next dysfunction of a team: Lack of Commitment, and we can fairly validly conclude that we can all be glad that Bob the Rookie did not sign the Declaration of Independence.
How can team be cohesive let alone effective if its members are varying degrees of lukewarm in supporting a point of view or action that they must eventually move out of their deliberations and out, in front of, and for its constituents? How can that “action” or decision be enacted effectively if those who purportedly supported it?
I suppose that there are a variety of potential root causes that might explain why this negative behavior exists in a team. Was Bob the rookie a villain, or a victim in that his membership of this committee may have been more coercive than voluntary? Did the facilitator fail to ensure that the group knew their own ground rules re consensus? Did the facilitator fail to ensure that the group truly committed to a shared vision? Did the group members fail to listen to each other and honor a dialogue that would have more nearly ensured that all yes-buts and doubts had their fair chance for exploration and consideration?
The bottom line is that as onerous and as time consuming true dialogue may require, cutting short a potential dissenting point of view, etc., may likely result in Bob the Rookie going along to get along. And in so doing defeat the effectiveness of any such idea or action that the group thought they had genuinely generated for the good of the whole.