The word “team” evokes many responses from people, often related to sports.  I’ve never been proficient with discussing sports teams, but I do enjoy thinking about and discussing how groups of people come together to make a difference for others. 

Last week, Denise Simard and I were at a SUNY Education Deans’ Meeting in Long Island.  I don’t have enough positive adjectives to describe this team comprised mostly of deans and associate deans of education programs in the SUNY system.  There were about 20 of us at this meeting.  It is an amazing group that works together and supports each other without any inkling of competition.  We had crucial conversations in our private meetings and with many guests including superintendents, a NYS Senator, a Regent, an assemblyman (whose daughter is in one of our education programs), the Provost of System Administration, the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at System Administration, the Assistant Provost for P-16 education, and the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education.  We operated as a highly functioning team with the goal of providing the best education possible to P-16 students.  Needless to say, it was an intense three days of teamwork that addressed sweeping changes in education.

The goal of providing the best education possible for our students is a unifying goal regardless of discipline.  To do this, it is paramount that we work effectively as teams within our departments.  There is a great book by Patrick Lencioni that presents the characteristics of functional and dysfunctional teams.  The book is entitled, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”  In this book, Lencioni addressed the absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. Here is a summary of these themes from his book: http://www.thepracticeofleadership.net/2007/03/21/book-review-the-five-dysfunctions-of-a-team/ .  

One of our responsibilities as a team of educators is to inspire our students so they care more deeply, something that leads to deeper commitment.  Last night, I was at a gathering with a heart surgeon.  While I was shaking his hand, I thought about the number of hearts his hand had touched.  As professors and instructors, we too touch hearts.  We also help our students connect neurons with new synapses and help them develop new neural patterns.  Our effectiveness depends on individual and collective efforts to maximally impact the development of our students’ hearts and minds.    

Think about your team and the areas that need attention.  Margaret Wheatley said that, “We can’t design anything that works without the involvement of all those it affects.”  Within this context, she emphasized the importance of everyone being at the table.  Who is responsible for change if it is needed?  We have a mirror in the dean’s office if you need to borrow it – everyone can have a turn as long as you let me know when it is my turn. Better yet, maybe the mirror needs to be big enough so we can all stand in front of it at the same time as a team.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable.
     San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.  (This is a 4:43 minute video of an interview
     with Patrick Lencioni about his book:
     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dRKa700RaQ )

Wheatley, M.J. (2005). Finding our way: Leadership for an uncertain time.
     San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.(This is a video excerpt of
     Margaret Wheatley from her DVD on Eight Fearless Questions:
     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvJeqA9SnpU )