Team Health Check

Finish the year strong and united

Whether everyone is flying or flagging, you will get more out of your team if you take a quick look at how you work together, argues Michael Iannini.

Mid-year pressure

By this time of year, if you are leading or a member of an academic team, you should be clear as to what your role is and what your team has agreed to achieve. Data collection will be underway to assess how your team is progressing. However mid-year is also when teams can start to unfold under pressure, or even worse, slip into complacency.

Three questions to ask your team

Finishing the year well or badly can depend on asking three questions that I urge teams to give 15 minutes to discuss on the agenda of your next meeting:

  1. What are we doing well?
  2. How can we improve the way we work?
  3. What should our focus be for the next 3 months?

If you are surprised by the discussions that ensue, then maybe you need a Team Health Check (THC).

In today’s schools, teams are responsible for accomplishing many transactional tasks, such as lesson planning and event coordination. Those tasks may be delegated to a team, and then completed by individuals.

If this becomes the dominant culture, teams can lose much of their transformative potential. Harnessing the collective energy of team members, getting them to work interdependently towards a transformative outcome should be the real focus of a team. Developing synergy between team members, however,  can be challenging, so it’s critical to know where to focus.

Targets and objectives . . . or team dynamics?

It’s easy enough to measure a team’s performance against set targets or objectives. The tricky bit is getting an accurate picture of the dynamics within the team and establishing what the team members think about the issues that affect them on a daily basis –  such as level of morale, or style of leadership, or whether they feel they have the necessary tools to do the job. If you really knew what your team members thought about how the team operates wouldn’t that enable you to make it even more effective?

Team performance categories

The THC assessment that I prescribe to Boards, Senior Leadership, Teaching and Administrative teams analyses 13 key Team Performance Indicators that affect team performance and highlights both strengths and weaknesses. Its comprehensive nature, involving quick and easy responses to 156 one-line statements, covers these performance categories:

  • Balanced Roles
  • Clear Objectives and Purpose
  • Openness, Trust, Confrontation and Conflict Resolution
  • Co-operation, Support, Interpersonal Communication and Relationships
  • Individual and Team Learning and Development
  • Sound Inter-Group Relations and Communications
  • Appropriate Management/Leadership
  • Sound Team Procedures and Regular Review
  • Output, Performance, Quality and Accountability
  • Morale
  • Empowerment
  • Change, Creativity and Challenging the Status Quo
  • Decision-Making and Problem Solving

The results produce a report that enables a team to take positive, purposeful actions in areas that are likely to generate the greatest return in terms of performance enhancement activities. The THC, once completed, provides teams with substantive data from which they can engage in performance related discussions, without the fear of being judged or criticised. Considering the team performance indicators provides the motivation for team members to engage in passionate and productive dialog about the team’s health. Exposure to the performance indicators is certainly thought-provoking.

Not applicable?

What about team members who find it difficult to rate several of the team performance indicators saying, ‘this doesn’t apply to us’. This reasoning is prevalent in several teams because it is often a performance indicator a team member would rather not hold themselves to, largely because they never thought to apply that measure.

For example, when I use the THC with School Boards I often get push back about performance indicators related to Individual and Team Learning and Development. One reason for this, is that School Boards often have very prescriptive nominating criteria that they feel bring the necessary experience and knowledge onto the Board without having to build further capacity.

Unfortunately, this overlooks the fact that people have often never served on any school board, let alone have any working experience with the board that they are joining. An individual’s development in this case might be orientating new board members with regard to their fiduciary responsibilities, which in some countries involves a legal liability. Team learning can relate to team building and strategic planning. It is naïve to think a team that meets 5 times a year has a good enough understanding of each other to effectively build consensus. School boards that don’t team-build are often lead by very strong board chairs and/or school management that end up doing all the ‘heavy lifting’. This is not procductive.

Becoming more than a collection of individuals

Several academic and support ‘teams’ struggle to respond to questions related to Balanced Roles. Team members either have very disparate responsibilities or different stakeholders (students and/or parents) that they must attend to. This kind of ‘team’ is one in name only as they lack a collective identity. Individuals in this culture see their work as ‘unique’ and don’t see the value in investing time to achieve a level of interdependency where Balanced Roles and Clear Objectives and Purpose are seen as essential.

They are unable to consider the team performance indicators as relevant. The good news here is that needs are easily identified and that team-building is a clear requirement. If these symptoms are ignored, technically you’re not leading a team, but overseeing a collection of individuals. When team members are working interdependently, they become responsible to each other, and the work of the team leader can than be focused less on transactional tasks and more on transformational goals.

Ultimately, taking the time to think through how the team is functioning is time well spent.


Michael Iannini is an Education Management Consultant & CIS Affiliated Consultant.

Visit the CIS website, or to find our more about his work.  

Follow Michael on Twitter @PDacademia or on LinkedIn,



Feature Image: by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay