Good evening, and thank you for all the responses to the last Coaching Letter.  Some were flippant and funny, some were pretty deep, and I appreciate them all.  The one that touched me the most is: I would love more feedback on my craft — as an educator I believe it is so important and I so rarely get any … but in reflecting on your coaching letter … I am not sure that I seek it out….

Tonight, back to the subject of teams and what makes them work.  Working with teams is, obviously, one of the Center’s many strengths, so call me if you want to talk more about this.  I’ve been delving deeper into the work on effective teams, which has meant re-reading these books:

Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How organizations learn, innovate, and compete in the knowledge economy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  (One of my all-time favorite books.  Edmondson talks about teaming as a verb, as opposed to the noun team, and how it is the key to organizational learning.)

McChrystal, S., Collins, T., Silverman, D., & Fussell, C. (2015). Team of teams: New rules of engagement for a complex world. New York, NY: Penguin.  (Much less interesting than you’d think—the usual mix of anecdotes and social psychology, and not enough detail about what McChrystal actually did in Iraq, which was remarkable.)

Wageman, R., Nunes, D. A., Burruss, J. A., & Hackman, J. R. (2008). Senior leadership teams: What it takes to make them great. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.  (A classic—especially helpful language on the importance of clarity, strategy, and purpose—see attached PDF What Makes a Group of Executives a Real Team.)

There’s a new book on teams that’s been getting a lot of attention: Coyle, D. (2018). The culture code: The secrets of highly successful groups. New York, NY: Bantam.

This one, too, is a predictable mix of anecdotes and social psychology arranged in service of the author’s particular thesis.  (I think that Malcolm Gladwell is responsible for a lot… And everyone wants to write like Malcolm Gladwell, including me.)  I may save you a lot of time by telling you that Coyle thinks that highly successful teams share three characteristics:

  1. Psychological safety (this video on psychological safety by Amy Edmondson is the most popular link that I’ve shared so far);
  2. Vulnerability that leads to trust;
  3. Shared purpose.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to say about all of these, but I’ll just share one thing.  When I was teaching in the LEAD Connecticut 092 program (oh, how I miss you!) we started at least one cohort with this task: Read this quotation from John Dewey (attached), and tell a story about yourself that relates to it.  We did this to model vulnerability that leads to trust.  We wanted the aspiring principals to get the very clear message that leadership is not about always knowing what to do; that they had to get comfortable with experiencing and talking about failure; and, paradoxically, vulnerability requires strength, although not everyone is capable of seeing that.

As always, let me know if there is anything else I can do for you.  Best, Isobel

Genuine Ignorance is Profitable… Dewey What Makes a Group of Executives a Real Team

Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Program Coordinator
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Office: 860.586.2340

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