Thoughts on Teams

Paul NealThe CACE Roundtable1 Comment


How well do you use teams? People associate teams with different ideas: work, opportunity, accomplishment, problem solving, battles. These words suggest both good and bad experiences with teams. But successful teams demonstrate what can be accomplished through a well-functioning process; they can be a valuable tool for a school leader.

Regardless of the purpose or setting, effective teams have certain things in common. A successful team is not only more productive and more likely to accomplish the objectives, but the task is more gratifying and more likely to draw people into teamwork again.

Here are a few thoughts on leading teams:

  • Teams need an explicit purpose. Without clear instruction, the tasks are more difficult to agree on, members don’t have clarity, and no clear objective is identified.
  • Teams need members able and willing to contribute. No matter the situation, competence matters. Competence gives the members of the team the ability to rely on each other, the ability to defer to others on the team with confidence that a task will be accomplished. Without competence, teams or team members lose the respect of others and tend to cover for their own inadequacies.
  • Expertise matters too. The objectives of certain teams may call for particular skills. Ensure that the right people are involved by rewarding them for their participation when the work is complete.

The school leader’s role is critical. He or she typically impacts the makeup of the group and the team’s direction. So, the leader needs to pick the right people to ensure that the team is made up of competent people with the necessary expertise. If the school leader is not leading the team, he or she needs to ensure that the right person is.

Leaders also resource the team, meeting the needs of the team as a whole and the individuals on it. In order to accomplish tasks, teams need resources (such as time!). The right leader may notice needs that members can’t always see, like the need for team training in a certain area. The leader should also invite team members to speak up about resources that would help them perform their task better.

What else should you look for in team members?

  • Team members should have a desire (or at least a willingness) to participate. Good team members may include those who enjoy building something new. Some personalities are naturally more reticent to take initiative, so you may need to encourage individuals to participate (they may not volunteer). Teams function best when there is respect for one another. A leader needs to model respect and confidence in the team members. Respect is demonstrated by dependably completing autonomous work and also through working well with others. Team leaders may need to address conflict that is not being handled respectfully. When leaders handle such situations well, everyone benefits.
  • Successful teams are made up of team players. It doesn’t matter how much expertise members of a team have if they can’t work together to accomplish the goal. Team members must have the needs of the team as the central focus and goal (more important than their own personal success).
    When talking about rowing as an example of teamwork, Jason Caldwell talked about the importance of gathering points—points where the rower checks to see that they are aligned with the other rowers: “The key to mastering gathering points isn’t to know what they all are and have a canned solution to each one. The key is just to know that they exist and to make sure that your team knows this as well. Team-size problems cannot be solved by ad hoc solutions. The only solution is to reset, realign, and lock in to a consistent, perfectly synchronized stroke. And this has to happen multiple times a day, every day, until the job is done.”
  • Finally, successful teams are unified. This unity isn’t necessarily personal, but it can be. Teams that are built around a common background of the members can be highly successful, which is why Christian schools can be the ideal place to see teams succeed. A shared purpose or mission can provide the basis for unity. However the team has come together, unity is another element that is a key to successful teams. Church leadership expert Larry Osborne, author of The Unity Factor, agrees: “Unity remains at the top of my list [to attend to with teams because] it’s fragile. Like love in a marriage, harmony [on a team] needs special attention or it will die.”

All the best to you and your teams!


  • Paul Neal

    Paul T. Neal serves as the Director of Operations at CACE. Paul brings years of experience in marketing research and enrollment management expertise to the team. Paul has presented and been published on the use of normative data in analysis, respondent motives, trends in education and online communities, and respondent quality. Paul joined the team after serving as Senior Vice President for Advancement and Communications at Cairn University. Prior to founding research firm Charter Oak Research (now part of CACE), Paul was a Principal at Olson Research Group for 15 years as well as serving as the Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Federalism at Temple University responsible for qualitative research on political culture and U.S. Public Policy. Paul has served as an adjunct faculty member at several Philadelphia area universities. Paul is a graduate of Eastern (B.A.) and Villanova (M.A.) Universities and attended Temple University for further graduate study.

One Comment on “Thoughts on Teams”

  1. Thanks Paul – love the rowing analogy as an ex-rowing coach! Our team is doing pretty well here in the face of the Covid-19 situation. It shows up people’s characters and allows us to speak into their lives in ways not possible when everything is going smoothly.

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