Thursday / April 25

The 7 C’s of Staff Success: Building Strong Relationships

Creating Teams from Work Groups:  The Ultimate Staff Cohesion Strategies for School Success (Part II)

In order for schools to be successful, the need to be strong from an organizational perspective, as well as from a staff perspective.

Previously, we’ve discussed the 7 C’s of Organizational SuccessCommunication, Caring, Commitment, Collaboration, Consultation, Celebration, and Consistency.

Complementing the 7 C’s of Organizational Success are the 7 C’s of Staff Success:

  • Communication
  • Caring
  • Commitment
  • Collaboration
  • Consultation
  • Celebration
  • Consistency

The 7 C’s are organized in a way that demonstrates that they are all interdependent with each other, as you can see in the diagram below.

7 Cs

Commitment and Consistency are at the center of the processes.  This is because successful staff are committed to the consistent demonstration of all of the other five interactions in everything that they do.

Successful staff demonstrate high and consistent levels of Communication, Caring, Collaboration, Consultation, and Celebration, but—because they are interdependent—each of these loop back to enhance others in the process.

For example:

  • Celebration increases the probability of continued or enhanced Collaboration
  • Caring increases the probability of continued or enhanced Communication
  • Consultation increases the probability of continued or enhanced Celebration

Now, let’s expand on each of the 7 C’s.

#1:  Communication

Communication involves formal and informal, oral and written, explicit and implicit, person-to-person interactions.  In a school, these focus on involving, teaching, reinforcing, sharing with, directing, or validating individual or teams of staff who are working toward common goals.

Communication is an essential component of the personal and interpersonal success of a school’s staff. Sometimes, a communication is clear, but misinterpreted. Sometimes, it is unclear, and never clarified.

#2:  Caring

Caring involves the interest, recognition, understanding, validation, support, and reinforcement that we give to others in the personal, interpersonal, relationship-oriented, professional, and/or spiritual areas of their lives.

Staff in successful schools care about each other on a personal, interpersonal, and professional level. Thus, from the very beginning, schools need to hire staff who care and then they need to consistently nurture, reinforce, and sustain the “caring” to support the mission, goals, and outcomes of the school.

At a functional level, there are multiple “targets” for caring. School staff can care about different people: (a) themselves, (b) their students, (c) their colleagues, (c) their school, and/or (d) their district or community. They can also care about different processes: (a) relationships and interactions, (b) fairness and equity, (c) effort and productivity, and/or (d) outcomes and accomplishments. People care about these targets in different ways, at different times, to different degrees, and in different amounts. Negative caring typically results in motivations and actions that personally or interpersonally “hurt” someone or that undermine a plan or initiative. Neutral caring about something means staff either are totally unaware of the person or process (it’s “not on their radar”) or it is not a priority for them (it’s flying “under their radar”).

When staff care too much about something, they can become so wedded to a person or process that they lose their objectivity, and their motivation and actions become obsessed, excessive, or extreme and this can be unhealthy or counterproductive. For example, where we personally care too much about colleagues, we may be more likely to miss, ignore, enable, or unconditionally accept their professional weaknesses, missteps, or even maliciousness.

The challenge is how to find, maintain, and sustain balance in a sometimes unbalanced student, staff, and school world.

#3:  Commitment

Commitment involves a dedication to a school’s ideals and beliefs, goals and objectives, plans and programs, colleagues and co-workers, organizations and systems, and their surrounding communities and society. Commitment involves both attitudes and behavior. It is long-standing in nature, and it endures through good times and bad.

Effective and consistent Communication creates trust while balanced and sustained Caring results in staff who are motivated to the mission, goals, and outcomes of the school.  Both of these elements facilitate Commitment—for individual staff members as well as for small (e.g., grade level teams) and large (e.g., across a school or district) groups of staff.

However, once staff Commitment is initially established, it needs to be generalized across all of the other 7 C’s.

Schools must be committed to effective Communication, and sincere and authentic Caring in order to build and sustain Commitment which then generalizes to a commitment to support staff Collaboration, Consultation, Celebration, and Consistency.

#4:  Collaboration

Collaboration occurs when school staff work in well-functioning teams and successfully:

  • Plan, implement, evaluate, and celebrate projects together
  • Establish the commitment and consensus to succeed
  • Use data, problem-solving, and negotiation to resolve differences
  • “Agree to disagree” when problem-solving is not completely successful

Collaboration is different from cooperation.

Cooperation typically occurs when staff members agree on specific group goals and then work together to attain those goals. But when there are disagreements over group goals, power struggles occur with some individuals “opting out” and refusing to participate in group activities and others being “pushed out” of the group and not being allowed to participate. Thus, cooperation is conditional.  It occurs when there is agreement, and breaks down when there is disagreement.

Collaboration, in contrast, occurs when team members are able to work together both when there are agreed-upon team goals, as well as when there are individual or team differences and disagreements.

Thus, Collaboration involves the willingness and ability to:

  • Take on different roles for the good of the team (e.g., sometimes “leading” and sometimes “following”)
  • Positively recognize and reinforce team member and team strengths
  • Critically evaluate, provide feedback, and directly resolve team member disagreements and team weaknesses
  • Function so that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts”—that is, team consensus is more valued than individual agendas

Work groups often cooperate, while teams typically collaborate.

Staff in less productive schools are often initially organized in work groups and given tasks to complete. While they are given the time to cooperate and accomplish the tasks, they rarely are given the expectation, time, support, or resources to help them evolve into collaborative teams.

In productive schools, there is an explicit goal and expectation that all school work groups will ultimately become fully-functioning teams. This takes both administrative and staff Commitment and Collaboration.

#5:  Consultation

Consultation involves the recognition that—when school staff do not have the understanding, knowledge, skill, confidence, objectivity, or interpersonal capacity to address a need, meet a goal, or solve a problem—they must have the willingness to find, listen to, and accept assistance from colleagues, supervisors, or other experts who can help them.

When doctors are unsure about a patient’s symptoms or diagnosis, or when they simply need some reassurance on a challenging case, they get a “consult” or a “second opinion.” This is an expected part of the culture of the medical profession. Indeed, if a doctor did not do this, and their patient died, all of us would be thinking about medical malpractice.

Unfortunately, however, in schools, asking for a consult or second opinion is often considered an admission of weakness or incompetence.

Indeed, when specific student approaches are not working, many teachers or administrators “close their doors,” rationalize or deny the problem, and continue to implement the same approaches that are not working. And yet, if they avoid asking for a consultation, and the student problem continues, is not solved, and results in harm, is this not educational malpractice?

The bottom line is that we need to make sure that the culture and practices of every school in our country focus on staff improvement, growth, excellence, and life-long learning and that they explicitly support the mantra: “If you don’t know, you get a consult.”

#6:  Celebration

Celebration involves the formal or informal observances that acknowledge the accomplishment of short- and long-term student, staff, and school goals.

While celebrating individual achievements is important, successful schools spend more time celebrating group and team successes.

However, celebrations should focus both on the tangible and measurable outcomes that traditionally define school success (i.e., student achievement and proficiency, and staff competence and effectiveness), as well as the less tangible, process-oriented outcomes that often facilitate that success (i.e., the 7 C’s).

Schools and districts need to celebrate not just the successful end of the journey, but the processes that occur to make every step of the journey successful.

#7:  Consistency

Finally, Consistency —along with Commitment—is the “glue” that makes the 7 C’s work.

Consistency involves staff members’ continuous dedication, focus, and acts of Communication, Caring, Commitment, Collaboration, Consultation, and Celebration. Consistency occurs across time, people, settings, situations, and circumstances.

And as with communication, Consistency breeds trust. With trust, consistency becomes easier and easier. Conversely, inconsistency undercuts motivation, and negatively impacts staff’s commitment to and implementation of the 7 C’s.


According to Sanborn, “A Team is a highly communicative group of people with different backgrounds, skills, and abilities with a common purpose who are working together to achieve clearly defined goals.”

In order for schools to be successful, they need to have a number of different teams that are consistently using the 7 C’s both within their team and collaborative across to other teams.

While this is not always easy, it is always necessary. We can’t just “talk the talk.” Teams need to “walk the walk.”

In order to accomplish our academic and behavioral goals, schools need to implement the 7 C’s in their classrooms, at their grade levels, and across their instructional teams. I hope the 7 C’s of Staff Success become a vehicle for your success—both personally and professionally.



Written by

Dr. Howie Knoff is a national consultant who has spent 30 years working at the school, district, university, and state department of education levels. He has helped thousands of schools in every state across the country implement one or more components of school improvement- – from strategic planning to effective classroom instruction to positive behavioral support systems to multi-tiered strategic and intensive academic and behavioral interventions (see One of his most-recent books was published by Corwin Press: School Discipline, Classroom Management, and Student Self-Management.

You can contact Howie by Twitter (@DrHowieKnoff) or email (

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