Building Effective Collaborative Teams: It’s Really More of a Heart Than a Science

A new colleague joined my middle school team at the beginning of this year. As soon as we met, I knew that we were going to be a great collaborative team. And, thankfully, we’ve really clicked: we pop into each other’s rooms, we bounce ideas off each other, we create new initiatives. It has been very rewarding.

Why did we click? What makes our relationship so fruitful, while other teams I have belonged to just seem so meh? I needed to figure this out because who wants to work with meh when you can have amazing

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Openness

Every encounter with this new colleague, since our very first meeting, begins with a smile. A genuine smile makes such a big difference. Next, when we met, we stop what we are doing and we turn to give each other our complete attention. We make each other feel welcome and important. We listen to each other, whether we are sharing a new idea or complaining about some new frustration. We really listen.

Trust

Once the openness was established, we could really begin to see each other.  The usual workplace posturing was dispensed with and we could be vulnerable with each other. Now we are in a place where we feel comfortable sharing what worked (without bragging), and we are just as comfortable sharing what did not work (without judgement). We are intentional about our feelings. Nothing kills trust more than comments like “I’d never allow that to happen in my classroom!” We treat each other as equals, with an understanding that we are on this journey together. 

Positivity

While my colleague and I do give each other the space to vent about issues, we don’t dwell in the negative for long. We eventually help each other shift our thinking towards solutions. And, we always close with some sort of affirmation – something to remind ourselves of our awesomeness. We always walk away from encounters in a better mental place, more committed than ever to providing students with the best possible learning experience.

Focus on Growth

My colleague told me that her favorite part of an effective collaborative relationship is that every meeting is like an awesome PD session. New ideas are introduced. Challenges are explored. Insights are shared. Close collaboration also allows a team to divide the planning workload, allowing partners to specialize in particular content or skill areas. This provides time for teammates to take lessons to the next level. Lesson planning has become a creative and fun experience – something to actually look forward to.

All of this awesomeness has to happen organically. Trust and openness cannot be mandated. And, it certainly can’t be built through curriculum infrastructure changes. Collaboration must be fostered. Teaching teams can grow closer if they share common prep periods, a common work space, and regular opportunities to both determine, and work on, their own needs. You can also do simple things like starting faculty meetings with some time for colleagues to catch up. But, don’t even think about scheduling an official Icebreaker Activity®. As soon as you order staff to take part in an icebreaker, it is resented and resisted.   

I feel lucky to have a close collaborative relationship with a peer. I will continue to reflect on this relationship, always making myself open to understanding how and why it works. I don’t want to teach in a silo ever again. And, the more I understand what makes this current partnership work, the more likely I’ll be able to replicate it in the future. And that would be amazing!

Ed X!

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