Creating and enabling teams: Andy Buck

In this extract from his new book Leadership Matters, Andy Buck explains some ways in which leaders can bring their staff together to create high-performing teams. 

As a school leader, at whatever level, you will probably be working with a diverse range of individuals. Some of your staff may well be very experienced, extremely confident and need very little support and guidance from you. These individuals have a huge amount to give to the team as a whole. Bringing out the best in your high performers is really important, particularly as the temptation is to focus on those staff who are much less experienced, much less confident and look to you for support and guidance.

Some of your staff may be very aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, whereas others may lack the self-awareness that enables them to see themselves as others do. Some team members may be facing significant external pressures from family or other aspects of their lives. Some may be highly ambitious individuals; others may be very content with their current role and have no plans to take the next career step.

So that’s straightforward then! Your role is to help support these disparate groups of individuals into high performing teams committed to a shared vision, in a way that brings out the best in each of them. What follows is a summary of some of things that can help.

First of all, creating a climate of openness and trust has to be the starting point. If you are to understand what makes others in your team tick, the team needs to feel comfortable and able to share things about one another. If there is one thing, however, that you might want to focus on, it would be making time to have individual one-to-one conversations with members of your team. For some middle leaders, particularly those of you in pastoral roles or where you have responsibility for coordination of a particular area such as literacy and numeracy, finding the time to have even a short one-to-one conversation can sometimes be more challenging than for someone working in a subject department. If you are a senior leader, this can be easier to do. Either way, do really try to make the time, formally or informally, to get to know the members of your team and better understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, more formal appraisal and performance management processes are an important element of this process but the power of the regular, developmental conversation is, in my view, at the heart of what really drives improvement and performance. Taking the time to agree how these conversations will work in practice is in itself an important part of the process.

Here are some of the features of great 1:1 meetings.

1. Agree or contract with one another at the start how your 1:1s will work.

2. Schedule your 1:1s well in advance and avoid cancelling

3. As you delegate more, let your team members each create their own agenda (maybe provide an agenda template to help) – add in your items afterwards. Decide if you will settle the agenda before or in the meeting.

4. Avoid the temptation for them to be updates – this can often be done in other ways. Try to make your 1:1s about things that need discussion.

5. Ask questions more than you give advice. Make your 1:1s developmental.

6. Occasionally, ask for help with something you are working on that you would value their opinion or help with.

7. Make your 1:1s feel personal. Ask them how you can do this.

8. Try to ensure they leave feeling valued, energised and positive.

9. If you have any follow-up actions, try to do them the same day if you can.

10. Occasionally, ask for feedback on your own performance.

You may also find it useful for your team to use a personality tool, such as the one we have developed at Leadership Matters to help you understand one another’s personalities as a team, as covered earlier in this book. This doesn’t just help you better understand the individuals in your team, it also gives your team members a better understanding of you. Some people

find the use of these sorts of tools quite threatening, so taking time to talk through how best to introduce such an idea can be helpful.

Making the most of meetings

A big chunk of this chapter is given over to reflecting on characteristics of effective meetings. The time you spend together with colleagues is precious and usually quite limited. But it has the potential to both support the effective working of a team or, if badly handled, to actually have the reverse effect! In thinking about meetings, it’s just as important to remind

yourself that what happens before or after a meeting can sometimes be just as important as the things that actually happen in the meeting.

Before a meeting

First of all, make sure you have a clear process for setting an agenda, prioritising items and clarifying who will lead each item. You need to remember, it isn’t your job to lead each item. The more others take the lead, the more you will be working as a team rather than as a group of individuals that are doing what they are told. You should aim to make sure each agenda item has a clear time allocation. You should be clear in advance what the outcome required for each item is – for information, discussion, or decision? Ensure you allow sufficient time for people to read papers in advance of the meeting, so that all participants in a meeting can reasonably be expected to have read material before a meeting. Try to predict which areas for discussion may need careful handling and think about whether any pre-discussions may be appropriate.

During a meeting

At the start of the meeting it can sometimes be helpful for a chair to review the agenda and reprioritise if there appears to be insufficient time to cover all the items. When doing this, they should make sure they think about those items that are important, not just those that appear urgent.

You should make sure you have agreed who is going to record any actions from the meeting and who is keeping an eye on timings. Sometimes it makes sense for this to be someone other than the person chairing the meeting. Whoever is chairing the meeting should try to create a climate where everyone has the opportunity to contribute. Sometimes this may mean inviting individuals to make a contribution, particularly if they are less confident or more shy, in a way that won’t cause undue embarrassment or resentment.

But the golden rule is to make sure all your meetings finish on time. This will require the whole team to resist the temptation to go off on a tangent or go into too much operational detail. Often, these discussions can be more effectively considered by a smaller group of individuals outside the meeting. When you feel the time is right, you may want to suggest rotating the chair of meetings. This is a powerful way of showing the whole team that they will have an important role to play as well as giving them the opportunity to develop new skills.

At the end of the meeting, if it is helpful, try to take time to review the key actions. Where appropriate, you should agree to the date and time of the next meeting and make sure you finish by thanking all participants and finish on a positive note, however difficult earlier discussions may have been.

1. Be clear what type of meeting it is – what is it for?

2. Make sure the environment is right; offer refreshments?

3. Don’t have a meeting for the sake of it.

4. Make sure the right people are there; use sub-groups

5. Ensure there is plenty of notice of meetings and pre-work

6. Have a clear agenda (prioritised; realistic; timed; owned)

7. Agree meeting protocols for discussion and stick to them

8. Usually best not to ‘present’ anything – send out pre-reading (in good time) and assume it has been read properly

9. Keep a clear record of agreed actions

10. Chair should: encourage participation; keep focus; keep to time

11. Mobile technology protocols are clear and followed

12. Rotate roles of chair and note-taker, where appropriate

13. Clarify outcomes at the end and thank everyone

14. Share note of meeting promptly, with actions, owners and timelines Use pre- and post-meeting discussions to ‘oil the wheels’

15. Participants should listen, respect others’ views, be honest, challenge constructively, respect confidentiality and adhere to cabinet responsibility

After a meeting

Stress the importance that the note of actions is agreed and circulated promptly. Where there have been particularly sensitive discussions, consider whether a short post-discussion conversation may be appropriate with any individuals. From time to time, ask people in their team for feedback. What can you do to improve your meetings?

Andy Buck is a former Headteacher and National Leader of Education, and was responsible for setting up the government’s flagship Teaching Schools programme. In 2012, he was appointed as Managing Director for Academies at United Learning. He went on to establish Leadership Matters, an organisation that focuses on providing strategic advice on educational leadership as well as practical input through executive coaching, leadership team development programmes and training.

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