By guest blogger Mary Ann Nelson
Most every leader in education appreciates the value of effective teams, but this book suggests why very smart leaders often create less-than-smart teams. Schwartz suggests that sometimes a leader’s mindset and well-intended but misguided actions get in the way of success. Sound familiar? In this book, Schwartz writes about his findings as a consultant in organizations around the world—the results might be helpful to your own leadership development. Busy leaders will especially appreciate his advice for how to create great teams because the book is filled with tips and examples that are practical, clear, and doable.
Schwartz’ basic framework is that leaders of effective teams operate with a “mutual learning mindset” (as opposed to a “unilateral control mindset”). If your team members view you as the one leader in the room with authority and obligation to fix problems, it’s likely this leads to their getting stuck, with results that turn out to be unproductive or negative. Schwartz advocates instead for a mutual team learning approach based on 5 core values (“transparency, curiosity, informed choice and accountability”) and 5 specific assumptions:
- “I have information; so do other people
- “Each of us sees things others don’t
- “People may disagree with me and still have pure motives”
- “Differences are opportunities for learning”
- “I may be contributing to the problem.” (See chart on pp 84.)
In clear and easy-to-understand terms, Schwartz explains how the cycle of mutual learning builds a positive reinforcement among members’ mindsets, behaviors, and achieved results. He gives examples of how the leader can extend mutual learning to the whole team, how their behaviors will be impacted, with specific examples of potential leader behaviors after watching your team’s discussions unfold. In short, Schwartz explains how to mold a team into an effective system, in which the team structure, process, and context need to be congruent with each other and with the team’s mindset.
Schwartz challenges leaders to assess how he/she makes inferences based on observations about people or situations, to become aware of one’s own “ladder of inference” (p. 117) and how to test your assumptions. Another new learning is that team membership is key: “if people aren’t really interdependent with each other, then a real team isn’t necessary and the leader can simply make decisions after meeting individually with members or even in the group.” (p. 149) Looking back, my work teams often functioned separately (i.e., program directors meeting as a team but in actuality responsible for separate functions), so real teamwork was blocked. Schwartz also explains how mutual learning teams understand the power of culture with each member being responsible for how the group thinks/leads and intentionally monitoring their norms so as to hold each other accountable. Lastly, Schwartz last chapter offers specific tips for how to lead and support your team’s understanding and hopefully their decision to change, to become a smarter team, with you on the team.