Senior leadership teams are central to the success of every school. No matter the size, no matter the make-up of the team; it is imperative that every team member not only buys into the school vision, but in addition actively works with others to enable the vision to be fulfilled.
Creating a climate in which this is achieved isn’t always easy. SLT’s have to find ways to overcome the complexity of differing attitudes, motivations and goals, so that their energies are consistently centred on working together for the common good.
From my own experience working with SLT’s those that are most effective in achieving the above, share these five traits…
1. They share a common purpose
These teams successfully lay aside ego. No team member elevates themselves above another. They are aware of one another’s strengths and areas for development and work successfully with both. The vision is important to all of them, not just the Head. They understand the role that they each play individually and collectively in seeing the vision fulfilled. As a result, a shared understanding of their ‘Why’ means that when challenges arise, they never lose their way.
Their shared sense of purpose ensures that the right decisions are made for the right reasons. They hold themselves and one another accountable for the outcomes of their collective decisions. Blame is absent from their interactions, but praise and encouragement are never in short supply. As a result, they continually fan the flames that keep their collective purpose and passion alive.
2. They learn together
Successful teams not only work together they learn together. SLT meetings are not only viewed as opportunities to work on the strategic and operational sides of school life, they are also seen as opportunities to reflect, learn and grow. Where this is the case, these teams consider learning at a number of different levels; organisational, team and individual. As a result, they have a much more holistic sense of what it means to be a leader and to work as part of a team.
Consequently, these teams often have a deep sense of feeling in control, even when faced with external directives and other people’s competing priorities. This is because, they have increased their capacity to not only keep things in perspective, but to also see the bigger picture. A picture which has been shaped by their collective learnings and deepening understanding of what it means to lead in their own school context.
3. There is psychological and emotional safety
In highly successful teams, team members are emotionally and psychologically mature. This doesn’t mean that they never disagree, nor does it mean that they keep their emotions to themselves. Quite the contrary. They have opinions the same as you and I. They have feelings and emotions the same as you and I.
The difference is their meetings have structures and processes that make it safe for individuals to say what they are really thinking and feeling. So, no-one need ever hide behind a fragile veneer of okay-ness and meetings need never be scuppered because team members don’t have the tools to address the elephant in the room!
All team members have played a part in shaping the team protocols for healthy, open and honest engagement with one another. As a result, psychological and emotional safety preside, conflict is minimised and when it does arise, every team member is well equipped to deal with it effectively.
4. There are high levels of trust
In these teams there are no ‘information quarantines’. The SLT is a safe place to both be oneself and to share confidential information. The ability to share, in a non-judgemental space means that weight of school leadership is made less heavy to bear. Individuals feel cared for and supported. Trust becomes the glue that holds everyone together. This means that individuals within the team feel able to take risks, knowing that they will be supported no matter the outcome.
5. They celebrate together
And finally, successful teams celebrate together! They acknowledge team effort and the results of the team’s endeavours. Successful teams understand that celebration can be a constructive way for building resilience and boosting collective esteem. They model good humour, compassion and respect. As a result, not only does it feel good for them to be with one another, it also feels good for others to be led by them!
About the author
Viv grant is a former primary head teacher who (back in 1997) became one of the youngest school leaders to turn around a failing school. Alongside coaching headteachers, she hosts a wide variety of courses, workshops and programmes to support school leaders and I'm frequently asked to keynote education conferences. Viv writes articles around well-being, coaching or leadership for The Guardian, Independent Education Today, The Huffington Post and the Teach Wire group (e.g. TeachPrimary, Teach Secondary, Primary School Management) and has also been featured on Sky News around well-being, coaching or leadership.