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Blog: 5 ways to spot a dysfunctional SLT

After reading Patrick Lencioni’s amazing work on the 5 dysfunctions of a team, I read so much that resonated with me about school leadership teams. Here are my thoughts as to how Lencioni’s observations can be reflected in dysfunctional school leadership teams.

1. Lack of trust

Without trust, the long-term development of teams and an effective culture is impossible. Engendering trust is not just a question of “being nice”, but of speaking from a place of mutual respect and the understanding that everyone is on the same team, working towards the same goal. As a leader, it’s vital that this is held up as a virtue and practised in public, as well as private, discussion.

2. Lack of attention to results

Dysfunctional teams include (and are often led by) individuals who are more concerned with their own results, status and ego than the collective success of the team. Without a national shift in the judgement of schools, this short-term approach can only be tackled by schools becoming advocates and defining agents of the communities they serve. In this way, leaders are forced to aim for a broader impact than their own CV.

3. Fear of conflict

During SLT meetings, individuals within defective teams frequently become passengers and offer little help in the refinement of new ideas. To avoid this, challenge and discussion should be celebrated, and the team should understand that without each other and their feedback to each other, their great efforts will not be as productive.

4. Lack of commitment

If senior leaders don’t insist that colleagues can voice concerns, share support and arrange planning in an open forum, this can lead to a lack of buy-in. Leaders mustn’t accept non-committal meetings where some team members allow other colleagues to accept all the risks in terms of strategic decisions.

This means ensuring that all team members have taken the opportunity to state their opinion and, in doing so, freely given up their safety clause of “it wasn’t my idea”.

5. Avoidance of accountability

As soon as avoidance of accountability is accepted by leadership, it spreads like wildfire throughout any organisation. Once decisions have been made and the direction taken, leaders must take on the accountability of the collective. This responsibility should be a key consideration when recruiting and adding new members to the SLT.

Phil Denton, Headteacher at St Bede’s Catholic High School

Phil is a Headteacher as well as an author, having written ‘The First 100 Days’, a story about what we can learn from Premier League managers about being successful over your first 100 days in a role and beyond. Phil has had several articles published in the SecEd magazine.

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