In 2012, Google began studying how workers can transform productivity by examining the perfect team. They scrutinized everything from how often they socialize together, to how regularly they communicate, to their personal backgrounds. Like many organizations, Google believed that putting the best people together would create the highest level of productivity. However, no matter what data they collected, they didn’t see any consistent patterns.
What they eventually identified as a consistent thread across successful teams is the group norms. Norms are the rules of engagement, whether clearly articulated or unwritten – these are rules that govern how people function when they get together. The more aligned the group was on these norms, the quicker they were able to get things done.
Google studied 180 teams and collected 250 data points. Through this research and all this data, they analyzed over 35 different statistical models to account for qualitative and quantitative metrics, different kinds of teams, and statistical significance. Google came up with these five traits of productive teams, as described on the re:Work with Google website.
- Psychological safety – team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.
- Dependability – team members get things done on time and meet a high bar for excellence.
- Structure and clarity – team members have clear roles, plans, and goals.
- Meaning – work is personally important to team members.
- Impact – team members think their work matters and creates change.
How do these concepts affect schools and school districts? This is the question the three of us are attempting to refine: Jose Dotres, Chief Human Capital Officer for Miami-Dade Schools; Tomás Hanna, Chief Human Capital Officer of New York City Department of Education; and Anthony Kim, author of The NEW School Rules and CEO of Education Elements. Together we started analyzing the current state of each of their school districts, with the framing around the vital practices in The New School Rules: 1) Planning; 2) Teaming; 3) Managing Roles; 4) Decision-Making; 5) Sharing Information; 6) The Learning Organization.
Each of us was trying different things in our respective organizations. In Miami-Dade, Jose described a vision for the next phase of improvement: “to create more collaborative and interconnected work.” To make this happen, “we need to make sure we are not static. Teams need to come and go,” says Jose. For teams to come together and address problems of practice in an innovative manner, team members must interact with other talented staff members across the organization. Our collective expertise will only grow if teams are formed with the individuals that have the will, skill, and determination to problem solve and innovate. In Miami, they are also looking beyond just instructional skills when hiring teams, and, instead, are looking for well-rounded people who are willing to learn continuously. The recruitment and retention of teachers are paramount to Miami-Dade, and they want to position their school district as one that offers multiple career paths and prospects. Presenting a trajectory of future opportunities is essential, as it will allow them to attract and retain talented and committed individuals that will grow professionally beyond the classroom and evolve as the next bench of school and district leaders.
Meanwhile, NYC DOE is in the midst of some significant organizational redesign. They have a new chancellor, for whom developing effective and collaborative teams is a high priority. Tomás says, “as we engage in this priority, we are looking to make sure the department understands the developmental needs of our employees, including Central and field-based talent.” NYC DOE is working towards providing learning opportunities for every leader. Tomás and his team are looking at ways to collect data about adult learning, developing career pathways for employees, and creating continuous feedback loops to ensure they are responsive to the needs of their talent strategy. As they develop their human capital strategy and roadmap, Tomás sees the roadmap continuously evolving as this work becomes part of the general operating nature of the district.
What we agreed on are 3 key levers to make school districts more agile and more evolved. These levers are about changing operating norms:
- Lead by developing others – This might sound obvious, or you may feel like you are already doing it. Validate this with your team by asking them if they feel that the district is developing them professionally. In today’s world of rapid-fire information and large distributed workforces, it’s hard to lead without also making the people around you leaders.
- Dynamic teams within an organization – If we want to get more done, teams have to come and go. Static teams don’t have any more time in the day to add more projects. It’s not about reducing the number of initiatives but making sure that people are working together to optimize getting stuff done.
- Innovation in recruiting and retention – We can’t continue to say that we need a better team or expect to hire the best. At the beginning of this post, you read that just hiring the best isn’t the solution. The five points Google outlines for effective teams also lead to effective workforce retention practices.
These three areas of focus will bring more effectiveness to school districts. In addition, we believe it will create a more competitive workplace.
The three of us are building a community of Chief Human Capital Officer practitioners from districts across the country to develop these ideas further. We absolutely believe that in order to get extraordinary student outcomes, we have to create exceptional teams and highly functional organizations. We can’t rely on working more or lament on not having the right people. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do the work we need the way we are doing it today. The notion of being the perfect team will seem like a scene from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. Reach out to us if you are inspired to be part of the dialogue.