A sporting comparison

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Teamwork and collaboration are vital to many aspects of life, including schools. Anne Evans explains.

Teamwork and collaboration are qualities which are vital to every aspect of public, private, business and, of course, sporting life. Football devotees will no doubt have speculated on the degree to which both were present in England’s final performance in Euro 2012. I’m no expert, but I picked up on the post-match debate about England’s vastly inferior pass rate compared with Italy. To me, that suggests there is something lacking on the teamwork and collaboration front, but perhaps I should leave the analysis to the pundits.

Teamwork and collaboration are two of the topics explored in our latest Olympics-inspired think-piece. Researched and written by a headteacher, the article looks at excellence in sports leadership through a series of interviews with some of our most successful sports leaders and asks: what are the synergies with education leadership and are there lessons education leaders could learn?

David Faulkner, head of UK hockey, knows a thing or two about getting the most out of a team, having lifted his team’s global ranking from 11th to fourth in six years. He believes it takes time to develop a team and build a team ethos. Getting to grips with a well-established team ethos can be particularly challenging for a newcomer. He also believes that finance does not always buy success. It is the willingness of a group to work together that leads to success. Every role is clearly defined, only the best people for a particular role are appointed and huge amounts of trust are invested in them to do the job well.

He acknowledges that he is not the best person to lead all aspects of the organisation and he is certainly not there to manage performance on the pitch. That’s the role of the coaches. He sees his role as handling off field pressures, so that nothing detracts from the focus on winning.

All of the leaders agreed that standing back and allowing people to work in their own way, even if it is not the way the leader would work, was important. Leaders look for people who will fit into the team, but individuality is important too, as long as it energises and galvanises the rest of the team behind a goal, rather than distracts.

On the subject of collaboration, each of the leaders understands the value of seeking (and sharing) support and inspiration from other people inside and outside their sport. For example, different sports boards share learning about performance at a national level. But there are also plenty of “armchair critics” who believe they can manage the England team because they have kicked a football.

One leader said while he was willing to listen to what anyone has to say, he will only seriously consider and learn from the advice of those who have achieved at the level to which he is aspiring because “you don’t need the theories of non-achievers”.

There is an important distinction between teamwork and collaboration. One is about pulling together from the same starting point towards a shared destination. The other is about bringing people along with you from different, possibly conflicting starting points towards a destination that will be for the greater good of the whole.

Effective collaboration depends on many techniques: persuasion, negotiation, inspiration, pressure, bargaining, but above all it requires people to choose to become involved and to align their activities out of self-interest, sympathy, trust or rational calculation. Collaboration can grow out of being a good team player, but presents greater challenges and risks.

Transforming an underachieving sports team requires collaboration. Transforming a failing school requires collaboration. Transforming an education system requires collaboration. Once you’ve got the “players” on board, that’s when teamwork comes into play.

  • Anne Evans OBE is chief executive of HTI, an independent social enterprise working to develop exceptional school leaders. Visit www.hti.org.uk.


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