Category: Team Learning


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.

A few years back I was training a site based team in using data to develop action plans.

I distributed school performance data for the group to analyze. The group was not used to using data at all and I was hard pressed not to flat out TELL them what the issues the data suggested were.

I waited for what seemed an eternity when finally one of the teachers said, (sic) “I think I can draw one conclusion from what I see. But I am afraid to say it to the group because there are parents here who may misunderstand and miscommunicate what I want to say.”

I waited for what seemed another eternity. Finally a parent said, (sic) “I have a real problem with what you just said. We are all here for the same reason. So we should be comfortable with what we have to say to each other.”

The teacher took a gulp and then said, sic, “I don’t think our Special Education program works very well.”

Now the two preceding eternities felt like nanoseconds. This teacher had actually said something didn’t work. And not only that, he had given his trust to the group by voicing and substantiating his conclusions.

And this time it wasn’t the parents who squirmed. This time it was the administrator – members who clearly did not want the deficits this teacher had pinpointed brought to the forum.

And as they squirmed I had to decide how to lever this opportunity to foster Team Learning and to drive collective trust amongst the group.

And so we worked it. I asked the teacher to point out his reasoning for his conclusions. I watched for defensiveness amongst the administrator stakeholders. At first they were, but the data did not lie and so that led us to truly trying to uncover what the root cause issues that may have been at play behind the data.

From time to time the various stakeholder sub groups would ask questions or offer solutions that needed clarification and understanding and over the course of the next few sessions the group got beyond the he said – she said points of view to understand their collective tasks which were to synthesize each other’s energies to create effective solutions and plans for the students whom they served.

As Lencioni rightfully avers, nothing can happen in group unless they trust each other.

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!

If you’re looking for a textbook or want to read a book re Leadership. Check out book just published where I am co-editor and a co-author, “Leadership for a Global Economy”.

Available through Amazon and North American Business Press.

I just invented a new word in another blog I write, Edufutures, http://edufuturing.wordpress.com.

The word is Trilaboration. I created this word to contrast against COllaboration. Collaboration connotes two groups or persons working together . In this case I used TRIlaboration to speak of three groups.

What I’ve done, and how it applies in our conversations about Schools – As – Systems – Organizations (SASAO) is press the premise of laboration, which I guess is another new word I have created. Laboration’s root is clearly in “work”. The CO and the TRI are prefixes that tell us about the number(s) of groups or individuals who are working together.

Trilaboration insofar as SASAO is concerned? Here this applies best to Senge’s Team Learning Discipline, one of his five that he identifies, the others being Shared Vision, Mental Models, Personal Mastery, and Systems Thinking.

Team Learning is what it sounds like. It is about the need for the Learning Organization, or in our case the SASAO, to foster skills where the group or the team can learn not only HOW to work together but also how to be effective together. Simply putting a group of folks or workers who may even have similar jobs or work responsibilities in a room does not necessarily mean that that group has any clue about how to effectively improve the overall Learning Organization.

How many “committees” or “task forces” have you been on that produced virtually nothing?

Follow this line of thinking more concretely. A Learning Organization needs the collective brain power and experiences to continuously dialogue among stakeholders so that it can foresee and deter problems, solve present problems, and create new processes and procedures to improve what they do.

When a team does this well it is a self empowering collective and effective unit, a major tool in the arsenal of continuing improvement for the SASAO. But when it is not, when the SASAO neither knows how to nor even cares to learn how to use inquiry-based analytical and creative practices it becomes an Organizational Tower of Babel.

This post we will begin a series of conversations about Team Learning and firstly concentrate on the human relations aspect of any kind of ….laboration.  We will also examine Lencioni’s “5 Dysunctions of a Team” as a basis for conversation.

Always remember, the human relations dimension of Team Learning only has value when it is factored in tandem with analytical tools needed to make Team Learning elevate past coalescence and cohesion up to effectiveness and long-range sustained planning.

Trilaboration insofar as SASAO is concerned is about the both and the skills of the organization’s stakeholders to work together both in the human relations component AND in their collective skills to think analytically and creatively.

For that matter Trilaboration might better be substituted for with MULTIlaboration. Don’t you think?

It may be one thing to “turn and twist a mental model from positive to negative or its counterpart. It is another thing to, as Kurt Lewin said, “refreeze” that mental model in a new place.

So it may be all fine and good to have empowered the citizens of my new city to use that right brain muscle too often neglected in a world of Mr. Spock Thinkers but it is another to transform the “I-thinks” to “I-cans”.

This is reminiscent of the High Involvement Model best described by Dr. Priscilla Wohlstetter and her colleagues at the USC Center for Educational Governance. I also describe it in my own research and can be found at http://www.activelearningconsult.com.

Basically Wohlstetter showed that high involvement, and by extension, effective input and contribution by a cross section of stakeholders is only guaranteed when seven variables are operating. These are Power, Knowledge, Information, Leadership, Goals, Resources, and Rewards.

In the case of this “City” the High Involvement variable of Knowledge was sorely lacking. Knowledge in this case, speaks to the How to and can be associated with Senge’s Disciplines of both Personal Mastery and Team Learning.

In English, this means that while the group had generated many significant and potentially effective ideas to not only right their own Mental Models, but also to realign their own energies towards systemic health, they really didn’t know how to do this.

And so, under the “Teach a man to fish” point of view, that is, when the group knows HOW then no one leader needs to be so indispensable to the group’s successful continuance some schoolin’ was necessary.

So I taught them, however quickly, how to strategically action plan their ideas.

Here I claim no magic wand or secret formula about action plan design. Indeed I’d venture that most leaders, in education or otherwise are taught somewhere along the line, how to strategically plan. My website shows a couple of examples.

But the big HOWEVER is that learning such a skill as with learning most skills in a vacuum, has little or no translation unless or until the premise is embedded in a purpose.

Here my new City-dwellers indeed had purpose. That is they recognized that their ideas, as worthy as they were, needed to be translated to action. And that these actions couldn’t be willy-nilly throws of the dice. Instead, they had to sequence their ideas into actionable strategies. They needed to know who would be responsible, what they needed, how to overcome obstacles they could anticipate, and above all, how to measure their progress both formatively and summatively. Isn’t that what the quarterback does in the huddle?

And that will be the next Tale of This City.

The Root Cause term has garnered some attention these past few years of economic upset. When the market tanked in 2008 commentator after commentator pontificated on the root cause(s) for this systemic failure.

There are ways to more nearly isolate what “lies beneath” and how or to what extent groups and individuals can do this, first on a micro level and then at its counterpart. This is a skill and a mindset that needs more structured attention than what I intend to do in this blog series.

This blog series instead is meant to showcase how leaders “teach a man to fish” systemically. In this instance that idea appears to speak most nearly to Senge’s Personal Mastery and to Team Learning Disciplines but I would argue that neither has much traction without a reversal of prevailing Mental Models.

The Mental Model in this City appeared to be a dangerous mix of Futility, Powerlessness, Resentment, Frustration.

But I couldn’t tell them that. I needed them to figure that out and that was the challenge! I needed to teach them to fish.

I do not claim major victory here. I do claim that I distilled their feelings about the issues noted above by flat out telling them. “You feel Futile.” “You feel Powerless.” You feel Resentment”. and “You feel Frustration.”

They were almost surprised that I had “diagnosed” their concerns. And then came the key point.

To borrow a page from the late Steven Covey, I asked, “So there’s nothing you can do about any of the issues you lament?”

I guess it’s better put that I used a “reverse” Steven Covey. He among many practices, speaks to identifying what power or influence an individual or in this case, a group may actually have and to seek to use those competencies or abilities to work at solutions.

At first there was nothing. No answers or ideas. I waited the famous 6 seconds “wait time” strategy hoping that someone would offer up an idea.

Then I got, “Well, maybe the community has lost sight of what they want us to do. Maybe we should either reassert our vision or invite stakeholders to review it with us.”

Then I got, “I’m not sure we are communicating about the many wonderful projects and programs our districts offer.”

Then I got, X and then I got Y. And then I got Z.

And then, and then.

The ideas flowed! The Mental Model had been punctured.

What was necessary next was to take the bundle of ideas and show them how to make them happen.

In another Tale of Two Cities I lamented poverty issues that affected the capacity and vision of schools and districts in need to do what they needed to do by their children-clients.

I have been to another such “city” recently and have seen it again. Truly saddens me.

However this case also drove home to me how Mental Models, negative ones, if permitted to persist, can possibly drag a whole system down.

Do NOT get me wrong, the individuals with whom I worked in this case were a splendid collection of educational professionals in every sense. These were folks who were working hard to counteract the negativity they perceived around them, affect how they lead and how they make it work. But some had begun to feel their efforts futile.

The negative mental models with which they contended were the perceptions and politics of the community in which they lead.

I have often noted to my Leadership classes that educators are many  ” – ologists”. They are

– PSYCHologists

– Economists,

– Political Scientists and

– SOCIOLogists, perhaps above all, before and / or in addition to being educator-leaders. They work with and lead people-groups!

This group clearly recognized and lamented the economic, political, and sociological forces that had intertwined for a “perfect storm” in their district.

For sure there are economic issues confounded by economic divide. One section of the district is very wealthy. Another section is very poor.

For sure there are political issues. I am not sure I have parsed them accurately yet but you can guess which group appears to control policy making and resource allocation.

These are underscored by sociological and demographic factors at play in many regions of our country. A growing “underclass” “threatening” those who hire them to perform service tasks but who are reluctant and / or downright resistant to providing them educational and social services to help them overcome their under-class – ness.

This becomes more likely an IMperfect storm whose consequences spin even the most well – meaning participants far, far from where they would prefer to be.

Incident after incident they recounted to me included how they wanted to do X and Y but were prevented by decision makers whose agenda were not grounded in the shared vision of creating and implementing the kinds of services, programs, initiatives, and resources that the district’s students truly needed.

Again, the paragraph above highlights the interconnectedness of Senge’s Five Disciplines. In this case the Shared Vision while still there was at the mercy of negative Mental Models.

As the group began to pile concern upon concern and negative incident upon negative incident I began to realize that I had to on-the-fly, try to give them new mental models or perspectives for engagement.

And so I drove to Root Cause.