High-Performing Teams Begin with Great Team Members

A team isn’t merely a group of people—it’s a group of individuals with a variety of important leadership qualities. Consider these four characteristics as you’re assembling your next team.
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Blog date
5/18/23
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For a moment, think about the improvements your school has experienced throughout this past school year: student achievement gains, improvements in family engagement, increased community involvement, effective partnerships. How many of these wins were made possible by a high-performing team rather than individual contributors?

Simply put, the various teams at a school—whether it’s an instructional leadership team, a data team, a school improvement team, or a team for a specific school initiative—allow us to get further, faster. 

At New Leaders, we believe schools have the greatest effect on student learning when they utilize strong teachers with diverse backgrounds and expertise, and develop them into a high-functioning team of leaders. An effective team plays a central role in fostering a school’s mission and culture, promoting a culture of equity, and ultimately, driving improvements that will lead to meaningful growth for students and professional learning for teachers. 

At New Leaders, we believe schools have the greatest effect on student learning when they utilize strong teachers with diverse backgrounds and expertise, and develop them into a high-functioning team of leaders.

Considering the impact and importance of the teams within our schools, it’s only right that school leaders want to be wise in selecting who they want to be a part of those teams. Which qualities of individual team members should you be on the lookout for, so you‘re setting your future endeavors up for success? Here are a few to keep in mind.

They care about building trust + community

Trust is the foundation for collaboration, and when it’s absent on a team, you can feel it. When there’s a lack of trust, team members might spend more time protecting themselves and their interests rather than helping the group attain its larger goals. 

And, trust is directly related to psychological safety. Trusting our colleagues means we feel more comfortable opening up, taking risks, and exposing vulnerabilities. Those actions lead to increased innovation and creative thinking, which is important for solving our stubbornest education challenges. 

Look for teacher leaders who do their part to create those trusting and safe spaces. Do they make themselves vulnerable, and let people know when they need help? Do they use active listening skills with their colleagues? Are they transparent in both their words and actions? Do they take the time to celebrate the team’s victories and milestones?

In a way, teams function as miniature communities. Communities bring people together to share new ideas, successes, and challenges—and co-create opportunities that might not come to fruition otherwise. Functioning as a school community isn’t possible unless there’s mutual care and respect between your individual team members. 

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They’re focused on learning + reflection

The most impactful team members know that while there’s an urgency to the work they do as a collective, it’s also critical to “go slow to go fast” and gather the information required to make thoughtful, deliberate decisions. And, they’re also committed to taking the time to reflect after a big decision or initiative as well, knowing that it helps them grow both as an individual and as a team member.  

The most impactful team members know that while there’s an urgency to the work they do as a collective, it’s also critical to “go slow to go fast” and gather the information required to make thoughtful, deliberate decisions. 

Making room for this exploration is something that’s important to New Leaders alum and Acero Schools Interim Chief Education Officer Alfredo Nambo. “People want to jump into action right away, but I think it’s important to learn as much as we can first,” he says. He’s leading his charter network and school leaders through an exploration of what it means to be a more culturally responsive network. In addition to extensive training, the school network gathers to discuss the implications of the work. “The charge for us is to learn more, to think and reflect, and to understand the context of our school communities and ourselves,” he says. 

They bring diversity + new perspectives to the leadership culture

In the corporate world, there’s a lot of emphasis on “culture fit,” where employees share the same behavior, interests, and work preferences. The key part in this phrase is “fit,” which often assumes our tendency to associate with people similar to us.

While it’s important to find common ground—and having similar values is critical when you’re working toward the same goal—consider focusing instead of “culture add,” where you intentionally add teacher leaders who will expand the team’s perspective. Effective leaders consider the ways in which all members enhance the team. Will they challenge the thinking of the team, giving us an opportunity for productive conflict? Do they have diverse experiences beyond their role at the school, and can they bring those experiences into their decision-making? 

And it’s not just about diverse experiences—it’s also about identifying team members who will intentionally work to break down silos. Let’s say you have a robust team of specialists who work hard to support multilingual learners or students with disabilities. Giving those leaders a seat at the decision-making table—by serving on an instructional leadership team, for example—ensures that their perspectives will be shared and centered. 

While it’s important to find common ground—and having similar values is critical when you’re working toward the same goal—consider focusing instead of “culture add,” where you intentionally add colleagues who will expand the team’s perspective.

Former principal and New Leaders alum Jonathan Humphrey’s words emphasize the importance of building teams to be the catalyst for this representation. “I think it’s our job as leaders to make sure we build the structures to hear from people,” he says. “This is how we affect change.” That’s why it’s so critical to invite people to the table—so more voices and different perspectives can be heard. 

They regularly look to empower + support others on the team

Empowerment of individual team members doesn’t have to be squarely on your shoulders as a school leader. It can be the responsibility of all the members on your team. In fact, this support is just as important for team members to get from one another as it is to get it from you.

As you’re putting your team together, look for those natural leaders who are already doing this. If they have access to materials or resources, are they sharing those freely with other team members so everyone has the same information? Do they ask others who don’t usually speak up for their input and perspective? Do they appreciate others for their contributions, and encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing? 

When people feel empowered, they feel motivated and inspired—and the teachers and staff who have a gift for harnessing the energy, knowledge, and resources of those around them are the key to building a high-performing team.  

When people feel empowered, they feel motivated and inspired—and the teachers and staff who have a gift for harnessing the energy, knowledge, and resources of those around them are the key to building a high-performing team.  

Being a member of a team = wanting to be part of something bigger 

Perhaps one of the most important qualities of a team member is that they see teamwork as an opportunity to transform your school on a larger, more impactful scale—and they can’t wait to get started. Effective school leaders nurture that leadership. 

As New Leaders alum and former principal Dr. Melissa Kim says, “Being on the cusp of meaningful change and having your values amplified by your district” is a motivator to be part of something worthy and full of purpose, especially right now, as schools need those change agents—and successful teams—now more than ever. 

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