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team meeting

Purposeful teams, prosperous schools

A school leadership team can make or break a school.

 Poorly defined roles, inappropriate or ill-placed experiences, inadequate communication, infighting or tugging in different directions … all of these in a school leadership team can scupper a school’s day-to-day activities, its progress, and its chances of success. Get a team right, however, with the right people in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, and everything flows. Good stuff happens.

A clearly defined purpose is at the heart of a great school leadership team. This means that the team members are all equally clear about why they exist as a team, what they are intended to achieve together as well as in their specific job roles, and how they will do this. Defining this purpose is not as simple as it sounds, however, because teams (for many practical reasons, including time, pressure, and reactivity) often end up focusing more on the daily/weekly/termly ‘what’ – the tasks they have to accomplish – rather than on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, or even, regularly enough, their longer-term ‘what’, ie their strategic goals. The purpose of a school – its vision and its goals – is often more clearly defined than the purpose of the school leadership team … and yet, without an articulate purpose, why would we expect any team to perform to its optimum level?

Try these activities with your leadership team:

1.  Ask the question ‘What are we here for?’. When did you last ask this question as a team? Focus relentlessly on ‘we the team’, not ‘we the school’, or ‘we as individuals, with our specific roles’. Identify what you are better at when you work together, and how you complement one another in achieving a higher purpose. Take Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a matrix, and ask yourselves what your purpose is at each level of the triangle – how, together as a team, do you ensure the survival of the organisation? How, together as a team, do you create belonging for yourselves and others?

2. Define your team values in practice, ie not just the school’s values (although these are a good starting point), but you as a team. What matters to you as a team, and, more importantly, how do you live these values out in practice?

3. Remind yourselves at every opportunity about your purpose. Don’t take it for granted – ever. The unarticulated, unexplored, unlived purpose is a recipe for disaster, as your understandings slowly diverge over time, and your collective understanding weakens. Focus in on your purpose at the beginning of every term, at the very least; in fact, consider starting each leadership team meeting with a restatement of your purpose as a team, and an example of how you as a team have actively striven towards your purpose this past week.

The purpose is not a statement on a piece of paper or on a poster; it is a living, breathing entity. Recognise and own yours, and see where this journey of exploration takes you.

Written by Dr Helen Wright

Dr Helen Wright is an international education advisor and executive coach, who challenges and supports school leaders and leadership teams across the Middle East.

She is speaking at GESS Saudi Arabia on how leaders can develop great teams. She can be contacted at