Candle teams

Teachers work in teams. And oftentimes these teams are comprised of educators with varying levels of experience, as well as vastly different personalities, attitudes and perspectives.

It is not uncommon for these team members to be polite to one another just to keep the peace. To disagree with one another but not say so, out of fear of “rocking the boat”.

So what happens when, all of a sudden, these individuals- who hide their individuality just to get along- are forced to work hand-in-hand, relying on one another and truly working together?

Research says that they will go through 3 stages.

The first one is storming. As soon as they start spending more and more time together, and the stress of learning news skills and having deadlines rear their ugly heads, the raw truth of each team member will emerge. Their vulnerabilities, insecurities, arrogances, prejudices and assumptions. As they go, for the first time, beyond the politeness that they’re so used to, and beneath the surface understanding of one another, they may have difficulty understanding where they fit. They might feel like they’re not pulling their weight, or resent others for finding things easy that they personally struggle with. There might be a struggle for who will be “alpha”, introverts may find it difficult to assert themselves, some people may not feel heard. Compromise leads to fatigue which leads to further tension and animosity. Harsh words will be said, people will resort to fight or flight. It won’t be pretty.

When teams push through the storming, they’ll move on to norming. This stage involves open and honest conversation. It requires each teacher to take the time to open their ears and their hearts. To empathise and to be kind to one another. To have patience. To be willing to recognise their own forthcomings and to bare all to their colleagues. It’s not likely to all be smooth sailing- teams may even slip back into storming a few more times as they try to create a new normal. A stalemate will bring with it a sense of calm, a true leader will emerge, and a newfound sense of respect will be enjoyed by all.

The last stage is performing. Teams will not get to this stage of optimal output and relative harmony without first storming and norming. They will need to be willing to confront one another with their concerns. They’ll need to let go of their assumptions and prejudices and remove their armour to reveal their soft underbellies. They’ll need to agree to a commitment towards maintaining kindness, patience and respect at all times. To being a united front, to having one another’s backs, to communicating professionally always. To having the hard conversations. Softly.

It can take a long time for teams to get to the point where they’re creating good outcomes and everyone is feeling valued. Many, many arguments can precede this and it can feel like the storm will never pass. Some people will quit and leave, some will simply give up internalise their emotions, harbouring toxic resentments.

But, I implore you, don’t settle for anything less than being part of a performing team, a team where everybody feels like they belong. Reassure your workmates that storming is normal, take the time to be personal and friendly and to build human connection. Be willing to lose some fights, knowing that you’ll survive to fight another day.

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