Change Management: A Team to Lead the Way

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on the components of the Rennie Center’s Change Management Framework.

A key piece of making lasting improvements in schools and districts is assembling the right team to make it happen. As we’ve discussed before, sustainable change requires a thoughtful approach that includes building consensus around the problem you are looking to solve, setting clear goals, and choosing a strategy to get there. But none of this can happen without a trusting and committed team to lead the way.

Even the best ideas for improving our schools can fall apart when they hit the ground. Improvement efforts will face obstacles like changes in management, funding, or school priorities. But a strong team can manage the implementation in a way that weathers the storm, advances and enhances the idea, and helps the improvement strategy adapt to new changes.

Here at the Rennie Center, we have written extensively about the importance of teams in the book Improving Education Together: A Guide to Labor-Management-Community Collaboration. Our Change Management Framework delves into this idea, highlighting five essential components needed for any effective improvement team.

#1: Agree on a Goal

Teams looking to make a change in their school should share a common goal. This shared belief enables teammates to look past their differences, catalyzing a group dynamic that can be a powerful force. All team members should agree that their goal represents the entire team’s needs and interests. This can be expressed through a mission statement or Memorandum of Understanding. The combination of an internal belief and an outward declaration allows a team to sustain and survive changes.

Questions to Consider:

  • Do all members agree that the chosen goal, or Problem of Practice, is better than any alternative for the group to focus on?
  • Is the team’s mission clearly expressed and can it be articulated by all members?
  • Has the team discussed anticipated challenges and/or developed a process to prepare for unanticipated challenges based on the local context?

#2: Establish roles and responsibilities

Improvement teams need clear agreements to set roles, responsibilities, and team objectives. They need efficient communication protocols and schedules that allow teammates to connect with one another. Clarifying and confirming the specific roles and responsibilities of each member is vital to the overall improvement effort.

Questions to Consider:

  • Do members of the team understand their individual role in relation to the overall goal of the project?
  • Are appropriate structures in place to sustain and support regular activities?
  • Do all members of the team have clarity on what is expected of them throughout the project?

#3: Build a diverse team

Every team needs a diverse group of practitioners and stakeholders, each bringing a different perspective and area of expertise to guide improvement. Teams should include representatives of the community where the work will occur, and members should represent a diversity of organizational roles, ensuring all interests are equally represented. For example, if an improvement effort will impact teacher scheduling or time, union leaders within the district should be included in the process from the start. If there is a genuine attempt to incorporate their perspective into the conversation, the changes will have a much better chance of being implemented.

Questions to Consider:

  • Is the team composed of people who have the appropriate skills necessary to achieve the goal?
  • Is the team representative and reflective of the community where the need exists (e.g., in terms of race, gender, and socioeconomic status)?
  • Is the team composed of people in a variety of relevant roles?

#4: Establish norms

Showing up on time. Being present during meetings. Challenging ideas, not people. Norms and protocols like these provide a common foundation among team members to ensure all are held accountable for their contributions. Bringing helpful materials to meetings, timely data reporting, and other shared norms help develop clear and transparent processes and establish expectations of behavior from team members.

Questions to Consider:

  • Do all members of the team know what is expected of them?
  • Are all members held accountable for their work/contribution?
  • Are the meetings effective (and how does the team know that they are)?
  • Do all team members exhibit true investment in shared priorities?

#5: Create safe space

In education, there is often distrust of outside influences impacting changes within schools. Many times, these changes result in increased demands on practitioners, with little additional support. Because of this, improvement efforts move at the speed of trust. Building a trusting and committed team can only be achieved when team members share their ideas in a safe space that values the contributions of every person. Teams need to dedicate time through meaningful interactions where team members genuinely listen, consider each other’s ideas, and remain fully present.

Questions to Consider:

  • Has the team created a space where people report feeling welcomed and valued?
  • Is the rate of team interactions adequate for the team to develop effective relationships?
  • Are team members fully engaged and do they attend meetings with the intent to learn?

Without the right team ready to take on the challenges of improvement, even the best ideas will be shelved and left to collect dust. A team that is committed, trusting, diverse, established, and safe for all members makes real and sustainable improvement possible. To further assist improvement teams, we have created a set of project management tools. These tools enable teams to assess their relative strengths and weaknesses. Check out our Teaming rubric for more on this topic, and stay tuned for our next blog where we will discuss how to develop effective operations that enable teams to work together.

Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about change management or are looking for support in implementing sustainable improvements.