School Business Leadership

Ask Anna – What is a self-selecting team?

Dear Anna, Over Tapas with some business leaders last night we were sharing our experiences of managing challenging staff. One of our group was saying that issues were very much reduced if you set up “self-selecting teams”. I’m not quite sure what that is or how I would go about it. Do you know? Señorita SBM

Dear Señorita,

Excellent question. Wouldn’t we all love to work with teams that rubbed along together brilliantly all the time and were highly productive?

The basic idea of a self-selecting team is that the members of a team, working together towards a goal, decide for themselves who they want to work with in the team (and, ergo, who they don’t!) It works on the principle that employees who have been trusted to build a team themselves are happier, more productive and are invested in the success of the shared goal.

This means that the “management” of personalities is reduced because it is likely that the team has picked itself knowing what skills are needed and how each member can contribute to the success of achieving the goal. After all, everyone enjoys success.

It has been shown that when teams self-select they naturally;

  • form small and cross-functional groups.
  • focus on one project until it is complete.
  • communicate face to face.
  • are highly motivated, enjoy the experience and get lots of work done.

It is sort of obvious when you think about it. Look around the staff in your school. There are groups that gravitate together, motivate and support each other and, if encouraged to,  can come up with some interesting ideas. The key is to facilitate and direct this dynamic into something that doesn’t just happen by chance.

So, this is all well and good but how can we use this in leading education? First of all you have to put in some preparation work to facilitate decisions on the desired projects and the self-selection itself.

Every school (every year!) has projects and initiatives which it needs teams of people to work on and deliver. Examples might be a focus on an area of whole school teaching and learning, a desired improvement to IT or communications, you might want to look at redesigning the cleaning processes or you have a small building project planned. Traditionally, someone (usually SLT) will lead the project, bring staff with relevant skills in at certain points and work, often disparately, until completion.

Next time you identify a single project, why not “advertise” it in the staff room and see what happens? The worst could be that no one takes the bait and you end up going down the traditional route, but you may find a small group of staff are enthused and motivated by the improvement proposal and want to take it on.

If you have a number of small projects that would enable everyone to be involved you could run a selection “event” (involving both teaching and support staff) so that teams can decide what they want to do and who they want to work with. There is lots of advice online on how to run a larger event and how to involve a whole staff. Very basically, it works on a carousel type system where staff sign up to projects they are interested in until the project teams are full and balanced, and everyone is involved in something.

I hope that helps explain “self-selecting teams” Señorita. Do you think this would work in your school? Let me know how you get on.

You’ve got this.


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