Category: Growing Groups!


It’s a year later….

The homework policy went into practice. Immediately issues kicked up. Did they consider the individual needs of students? Could they cookie cutter a set time for every student per grade? How could they monitor the assignment of homework? Who would supervise the policy?

Over time, the principal and her Shared Decision Making Team made some adjustments and in the end what the team could be sure of was that homework was in fact assigned more regularly than it had been in the past.

However the Team was shocked when the principal asked the “Is the Emperor wearing his clothes?” question:

“Can we somehow connect the perceived increase in homework to improved student learning?” she asked.

One thing the team could do together was squirm and squirm they did.

Then Bob said, “You mean that we have to evaluate whether the policy worked?”.

The principal wanted to say “Duh.” but restrained herself. Instead she said, “We went through a lot of trouble and a lot of fine tuning to get some sort of homework practice in place. Don’t we owe it to ourselves and to the children to find ways to decide whether what we did was worth it?”

Bob put his other foot in his mouth by saying “Well it’s not like the School Improvement Police will come after us if our plan didn’t work. Where does it say that we get raises if we succeed or pay cuts if we don’t?”

….

Hmm, Bob’s remarks are both fortunate and unfortunate.

They’re unfortunate in that he said them in the first place.

But they’re fortunate on a couple of counts. One is that this is a kind of mini case study and hopefully not a true story. That a professional or a member of any school improvement effort would be so callous about whether there were positive or negative results from their collective planning and decision making is frightening although I daresay that members of school improvement groups near and far might sometimes think like this.

The other fortunate development is that we can now parse this kind of thinking in terms of what this dysfunction, Inattention to Results, may suggest.

It can be argued that school leaders are sociologists who also happen to be educators. We are after all spending so much of our time dealing with groups of people in various combinations to create the self sustaining, proactive, learning organization. When the groups go sour, perhaps out of the mental model shown above, or out of any number of other group process failings, the organization, and by extension certainly, the children it serves, suffers.

Search your memory and try to recall what happens when an educational initiative, or choice, from textbook selection, to policy making, and everything in between, falters or fails, how often has someone asked “Why?” “What have we learned from this?” worst, “WHO is responsible for this?”

The subliminal message albeit the cries near and far of “accountability in schools” is that we aren’t really held that accountable for our results, and in doing so we can continue to muddle on through to perpetuate what “mostly” works for “most” students.

It occurs to me that in so many ways, Inattention to Results is the most perfidious of the five dysfunctions. To ignore, blow off, make excuses for what we do or don’t do is really unconscionable in systems thinking where the correct model has always been PDSA, Plan, Do, Study, Act.

PDSA speaks to a kind of research and set of activities that needs further exploration in our mutual exploration of Systems Thinking and that is the idea of action research. That will be the subject two blog entries from now but for now it involves the obligation of the school organization’s leadership to build in mental models and inquiry skills to establish dialogues and analyses about our school’s practices, the great ones, the good ones, and the not so good ones.

As we end this segment of systems thinking blogs about Team Learning aka, Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, let’s remind ourselves about Benjamin Franklin and his co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, one could wonder where we would be right now if these dysfunctions dominated their thinking before they signed it!

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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.

Back in the first seasons of Saturday Night Live, in their Weekly Update segment, Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin would verbally spar about the issue of the week. At some point or another Jane would launch into a diatribe about her point of view.  When she would pause to take a breath Ackroyd would look at her with a mixture of disdain and pity and say “Jane, you ignorant ….”

Inevitably it would draw laughs but perhaps the deeper message behind the dynamic was about  how or whether groups who engage in an issue for their analysis should or should not agree with each other.

Lencioni, in his Five Dysfunctions books, focuses on this issue as the second dysfunction of a group, Fear of Conflict. Namely, how can a team be effective together unless it knows how to constructively disagree with each other?

What’s that you say, shouldn’t collegial circle groups, work study teams, committees, shared decision groups, department meeting  always be congenial, affable,, and cohesive?

What’s that you say, shouldn’t collegial circle groups, work study teams, committees, shared decision groups, department meetings always be positive, agreeable, and friendly?

What’s that you say, shouldn’t collegial circle groups, work study teams, committees, shared decision groups, department meeting aways be accepting, and avoid conflict?

Obviously the answer to the above question is a literary device to get you to say “FALSE”!

If the choices are between True or False, False is the right answer. However as with most true / false questions, there are nuances to each statement that could influence a respondent to think gray instead of black or white. After all neither Lencioni nor I am advocating for name calling and vitriol.

Obviously  – Obviously, we need to distill the three sentences for their common “message: ”

And that is, “Is there, should there, be room in the dynamics of a team for disagreement?”

Of course. And yet, think about meetings in which you have participated where members have said or supported a “truism” that was patently false or inaccurate and yet was allowed to slide through because of a reluctance of other members to question its veracity?

On one level and for sure, the team leader / facilitator has several responsibilities to make a dysfunctional team functional in regard to this particular set of team behaviors. (S)he must

– not permit personal attacks

– permit members to ask other members to cite evidence and logic for their points of view

– point out inconsistencies if no one else is willing to do so

– if necessary, train the group how to, as Covey put it, “seek first to understand before being understood.”

– if necessary, train the group to use inquiry skills in order to more nearly burn off emotional, non-logical conclusions in favor of reasoned – logical ones.

So, what would a FUNCTIONAL group look like in this regard?

Most likely the Facilitator would permit stakeholders to offer points of view. Then (S)he would make room in the analysis to follow for questions and probes of each other so that over a series of such dynamics, the group would recognize where a “conclusion” was indeed valid or if not, how they can rework the premise so that it is valid.

In systems thinking, particularly in Team Learning, such a skills set, both of the Leader and of her  participants, is vital so that the group’s comfort with each other to inquire and to build together is not a function of  often mindless group-think and more nearly one of  Collective Smart Think.

Recently I was on a Dissertation committee where the candidate proposed an action research study that would among other things, involve training fellow music teachers in using and collaborating about evaluating music teachers’ “effectiveness” in their instruction via a Moodle approach.

The proposal was excellent and has much, much promise for teachers on “non”-academic subjects as they will also be responsible for showing student “growth” by requirement of the New York State Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). His dissertation defense few months later was beyond terrific.

In the beginning though , I  was more than a little bit skeptical about the training-of-colleagues component with the Moodle. Moodle is an open source wiki-like Web 2.0 approach. A wiki site if you have never used Wikipedia as an example,  is a site that enables its members to add to, elaborate, and create new information for that site for the rest of its viewers.

This soon-to-be- Ed.D’s premise was that the Moodle would be a source to its participants in shaping how they might incorporate the online rating system that he had developed. It would also serve as a training platform so that participants could learn how to both use the Moodle and to implement the rating system.

At the time I remarked to now Dr. X, “This could be like herding cats.”

By the way, he more than pulled it off. However my concern in principle for all groups,whether face-to-face, or virtual had validity. For you see, as you already know instinctively, groups need to both be grown and grow themselves.

This is no easy task. Although there are plenty of examples to offer I’d like to offer Patrick Lencioni’s work as a good example.

Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team captures issues associated with effective group development in a tiered system that has much value.

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

In closing this blog post I’d strongly suggest that the Group Facilitator (I hate that word) not keep Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions as secret code. In fact, it is both healthy and conducive to the group’s evolution that they become aware of these Five Dysfunctions as they operate among each other. As they learn the “language” they learn to be aware of the presence of these dysfunctions and more likely collaborate to eliminate or reduce them!

Next blog post – Absence of  TRUST!