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I have had the pleasure (and sometimes displeasure) of being involved with many different teams in a number of different spheres within my life over the years. Everything from committees and workgroups at my employer to the governance committee at church to sports teams to musical ensembles to community organizations. They’ve all been interesting and rewarding in their own ways, but the one that’s given me most food for thought as I’ve considered the material within the Team Dynamics module is definitely my work with the school board.
The board is definitely a diverse, heterogeneous group, comprised of 7 elected members of the community (in our case, a retired teacher, an attorney, a physician, a truck driver, a preschool owner, a farmer, and a business man). This diversity has been both an asset and a hindrance at times. Depending on the issue being addressed at any given time, the backgrounds of these various members have often times contributed to constructive and positive discussion, with each person taking advantage of the strengths of the other members. At other times though, the dissimilarities between board members have been powerful enough to cause argument, dissension, opposition. Sometimes we are able to separate ourselves from our own individual desires and biases and think more as a group, other times people become more entrenched in their own lives and roles and unable to move forward together. Cohesiveness has definitely been a struggle over time, and the difficulty connecting is most certainly exacerbated by the heterogeneity of the group.
Gratefully, the norms of school board behavior are dictated very clearly by state law, and are clearly articulated to all board members in Illinois by the state board of education. There are explicit rules governing not only the actions of the board as an entity, but of the individuals serving as board members, as well. Despite that, there is a surprising amount of ‘misbehavior’ at times that can be observed, with people pushing the envelope on actions, discussions, behaviors. I think that comes from people’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of their role, even though the role of school board member is so clearly defined. Amongst our board members, we have a couple people I would classify as Maintainers, plus a couple of Controllers, a Creator, and an Assessor, all behaving as such in spite of the fact that the board president is attempting to do his job as Organizer, and the Superintendent is trying to run the business as the Producer.
What I have found over time is that the question of whether these roles can work in concert cohesively and collaboratively depends to great extent on the leadership of the group. When I first joined the board, it was dysfunctional in many respects. There was arguing and fighting routinely, with raised voices, confrontational posturing, and even to the point of a near fist-fight at one meeting. There was very poor leadership and things were allowed to continue in that way unchecked. After a couple years though, with change of the leadership of the board president as well as a new superintendent joining the district, there has been tremendous change of mood and attitude of the team, and despite the fact that many of the board members are the same individuals that were there before, they are now a much more cohesive group, supporting and respecting one another, making decisions in a team-based manner that reflects more thoughtful deliberation, and more appropriate governance. The same people, in the same roles, but now in a much more effective and successful team.