Jess Sanders

Joining Together to Change Our Schools

Discussion created by Jess Sanders on Feb 16, 2017

School change requires people to work together with a shared set of goals and values. How does a group of people with a common characteristic–such as teaching the same subject or grade level–develop into a team with a common focus and vision? Acknowledging and addressing this question at the outset can make all the difference in helping groups of teachers become highly productive teams.


Two frameworks can help to better understand both the difference between groups and teams as well as what team formation looks like. First, look at this chart identifying differences between groups and teams:


Working Groups


Single, strong leader

Shared leadership roles

Individual accountability

Both individual and mutual accountability

The group shares its purpose with the broader organizational mission

The team itself delivers a specific purpose

Individual work products

Collective work products

Meetings run efficiently

Meetings encourage open-ended discussion and active problem-solving

Effectiveness measured indirectly by its influence on others (e.g. student learning goals)

Performance measured directly by assessment of collective work products

Discusses, decides, delegates

Discusses, decides, does real work together

Source: “The discipline of teams” by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, Harvard Business Review, March/April 1993.


According to Katzenbach and Smith, the essence of a team is shared commitment to a purpose translated into specific performance goals. In a working group, performance depends on individual contributions. A team, in contrast, strives to achieve more together than its members could working independently.


The second framework, developed by psychologist Bruce Tuckman, helps to remind us that a newly-formed team will rarely perform well when it first comes together. A working group of educators might evolve from being a group to being a team as it moves through the following four stages of team development:


In the early stage of team formation, team members for the most part behave independently. Discussion centers around non-threatening topics. This stage can last for some time, as team members make an effort to get to know one another and start to work together.



Intragroup conflict can occur for some teams, but not all. Differing work styles may cause unforeseen problems, leading to frustration. Team members may clash, but ultimately resolve their differences. As a result, they may participate more comfortably with one another.



All members of the team recognize they share a common goal and begin to work towards it together. They accept the quirks of other team members, accepting them as they are. This stage can overlap the storming stage, because new team tasks can cause lapses back into conflicting behaviors.



Team members demonstrate knowledge and competency as they meet their goals. Group norms and roles are well established, resulting in high levels of success. People can join or leave the team without disrupting its performance.


Understanding the team development process can help groups feel better when conflict occurs. It also helps teams to know that there are predictable stages that they will experience.


Are you presently a member of a working group or team focused on schoolwide change? Which stage is your group/team in right now? Share your experience and observations in the comments section below.