“Research has conclusively shown that those who fail to find high meaning and engagement at work are three times less likely to have life satisfaction and happiness outside the office,” writes Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and happiness expert, in his book Before Happiness: The 5 hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness and sustaining positive change.
Achor also suggests that a predictor of success, happiness and positive impact is being able to provide support to others in collaborative situations.
The benefits of a shared commitment to collaboration to our schools are that
- Knowledge is shared
- Understanding is developed through dialog
- Decisions are owned collaboratively through discussion
- Innovation is encouraged through the collaborative norm of putting ideas on the table
- The whole team gains an overview of learning experiences for our students
To create truly effective collaboration, every one on the team needs to be engaged. How many times have people experienced what is intended to be a collaborative meeting, and only a few voices contribute to the team’s thinking? How many decisions have been made with those few voices represented, and the rest of the team members participating through silent default?
When few, not all, voices are represented in collaborative problem-solving in teams, we lose the potential solutions that might emerge from all voices participating. We want all team members to engage in our collaborative gatherings. The high engagement in truly participative teams enables the team to find ownership of implementation solutions, and taps into the inherent agency that can energise our team’s actions toward successful programs.
So how might we get that engagement?
Here are six ways to invite engagement from all team members, that the team leader can embed into a collaborative conversation with their team.
Around the Room
In this strategy, there is a prompt that focuses the collaboration. The facilitator asks for each team member to think of and write down a response to the prompt. After adequate thinking time, the facilitator models a response, and asks team members to stand and creates a way for the entire team to mingle and share their responses with as many team members as possible. One way of achieving the mix and mingle is to play music while asking people to walk (dance) around the room. When the music stops, whomever the person is standing close to becomes their conversation partner and the partners take turns sharing their responses to the prompt. Repeat the process as many times as possible to get as wide a sweep of team thinking as possible.
Ask for Sabotage Ideas
This strategy from The Adaptive SchoolSM helps the team to massage an idea and make it better. The facilitator states a generalisation that the group has made, for example, In our collaborative meetings, we agree to participate by speaking our ideas.
The facilitator sets up the idea massage by saying that he/she does not believe any one in the team would deliberately sabotage an agreement the team has arrived at, but for the same of improving the idea, the team needs to challenge it and perhaps in that critical thinking will emerge new insights into the agreement/idea. The facilitator then asks for each team member to think of situations in which they might choose to sabotage an agreement made by the team. To make it less confrontational (which some team members might feel is uncomfortable), the facilitator might ask the team members to speak with an elbow partner first, someone who is sitting beside them. After the brief think-pair-share, the facilitator can ask partners to share the sabotage ideas they thought about.
Conveyor Belt Brainstorm
In this strategy, the whole group constructs its understanding by adding to a narrative about the concept they are exploring or discussing. The facilitator uses a visible prompt to start off the group in thinking of ideas or responses. There is a blank piece of chart paper where group members will write down all responses, and each team member has a different coloured marker. After a few minutes of reflection, the group members start writing responses on their chart simultaneously. When the group ideas seem exhausted, the facilitator asks each group to pass their chart on to the next group, clockwise. The process is repeated until each group has written on every chart.
The overall list of ideas is a rich resource to find patterns of ideas. Although this activity is not predominantly conversation-based, it allows each person to make their contribution (in their unique colour) to the collaborative group’s bank of ideas.
This is another Adaptive SchoolsSM strategy which can be used after a learning engagement. The facilitator asks team members to prepare a one-minute synthesis of what they have gained from a meeting. Members will create their one-minute speech by thinking it or by thinking and writing it down, in an agreed-upon amount of time. The facilitator then asks everyone to stand and find at least 5 people (or however many fits in the time allocated for this activity) to listen to their speech. After the time is up, the facilitator can ask the team members to share takeaways.
The name of this strategy conjures the image of those conversations we have in the convenience store-brief and casual.
Modified Conflict Conversation script
When there is some agitation due to a change which may hold assumptions not yet understood by the group, this is a useful strategy adapted from an Adaptive SchoolSM protocol called Conflict Conversations. The modification is that instead of thinking about a conflict with another group of people, the team members are thinking and speaking about their internal conflict with the assumptions that underpin a change.
The facilitator provides script cards for each team member with the following questions.
- What is your connection to the assumption(s) for this change?
- How do you feel about it?
- What are your expectations?
- What are the worst possible outcomes when you believe this assumption?
- What are the worst possible outcomes of not addressing this assumption?
- What are the best possible outcomes of believing this assumption?
- What might you be willing to do to achieve the best possible outcome?
- What support might you need to achieve the change?
The facilitator gives each person time to respond to the questions. The team might discuss their responses in small groups before a large-group discussion of responses is engaged.
This strategy asks for each member of the team to share a response. It can be used as a reflection at the end of a collaborative meeting. The team leader asks, What decisions might you have made about your active participation in our collaborative meeting? How did your decisions influence the group? Each team member can reflect on their own for some time. The team leader then asks each person to share one of their participation decisions and how it affected the group’s collaborative work.
Developing effective practices for collaboration begins with each team member’s decision to participate. With these strategies, we can pop the isolated bubbles of thought and make them sources of insight and energy for the whole team.
What might be some other ways we can encourage engagement during collaborative meetings? Share ideas in the comments.
If you are interested in collaboration, the Learners Toolbox newsletter often explores the many ways we can build solid team collaboration practices in our schools. Sign up for the newsletter by letting us know where to send your copy, below.