What Makes an Effective Senior Leadership Team (Slt)?

What makes an effective senior leadership team (SLT)? The nature of an effective a senior leadership team (SLT) will be the topic of this essay. The idea of team work and various models of SLT will be covered linking their roles, strategy, values and pitfalls. I will interlace this essay with some personal experience and relevant literature Belbin and Fullan to conclude through an historical analogy, my personal understanding of what SL T represents.

The combination of words in the sentence “Effective Senior Leadership Team” brings together an amalgam of important and decisive words, which individually symbolise strong individual qualities. None the less, one word effectively links the whole sentence into one, “team”. According Belbin (1993), the word “team” stems from the idea of sport and play where individual players hold specific positions in a given task in sync with a sense of reliability and trust. A School Leadership Team is usually constituted of the head teacher and deputy head.

However, depending on the size of the school, the team vary in size, often, Assistant Head Teachers or Senior Teachers hold particular responsibilities such as leading a specific the key stages or assessment across the school. The team may also include the Special Needs Co-coordinator (SENCO) and increasingly the School Business Manager (SBM). According to an independent study into school leadership (DfES, 2007) five essential “models” of SLT can be put in place (see diagram 1. 1), so to hold a positive impact on the positive children’s attainment.

The report argues that in comparison with SLT models, leadership behaviours appear to be an essential aspect on the positive impact on pupils’ performance. However, via the progress and creation of new leadership models, the right leadership behaviour can be cultivated (DfES, 2007, see index page 8). Figure 1. 1 Five models of School Leadership [pic] It is interesting to note from this diagram, the overlapping of the different models as described in DfES. My previous school’s head teacher worked in collaboration with another school and where necessary, implemented similar strategies to both establishments.

Fullan (2010:14) emphasises the importance of “network and system engaged”, a process whereby a school in no longer introverted but actively engage with exterior influences thus seeking a “two-way partnership” which helps develop and strengthen a collaborative culture within the school and beyond. My understanding of the role and responsibility of an SLT are to establish the strategic direction of a school and then manage it, to lead any changes and generally make sure that the school is doing the best it can for its stakeholders.

In order to achieve the latter, Belbin highlights (2009, p1), “team role behaviour” as an important aspect in the constitution of the well functioning team and defines role preference as contextually mutable, in contrast, character that stems from the personality trait of an individual is less likely to change. He further defines (ibis, 1993) six specific roles that as a whole constitute our behaviour in a group or a team. In other words, until the roles are clearly defined within a team, instability appears to be omnipresent within the group.

Belbin (1993) describes one of the six elements as “role learning”, the identifying roles of others and, the array of roles attributed to oneself. It is fair to say that once each role is clearly established within the group, confidence is installed. This principal appears to be an essential tool in the construction of an effective team as I have experience in my managerial work where the importance of each role enabled the team to perform to their up most. Fullan (2010, Principal: 14) stresses the notion of a good head teacher to have a keen “bias for action”, but strikingly cautious “in tending to relationship”.

I believe, this is where, it is essential to remind ourselves that any team at all is constituted of human being, thus involving different cultures, views and experience. However, a head teacher generally represents the school and its vision thus acting as a leader just as Mc Call and Lawlor envisage the qualities of a leader to be a visionary, to have a firm idea of what lies ahead with a plan of action aiming at a specific goal (Pound, 2008). This coupled with strong interpersonal skills, commitment, resilience, positive outlook, supportive and approachable with the will to teer the boat in the mist of change and novelty (Pound, 2008). However, it is also essential to reminds ourselves that a Head Teacher is part of a team and as Fullan (issue March/April 2010: 14) describes, the principal is “second only to the teacher in his or her impact on the student”. In further support to this argument, Belbin (2004) would argue that not one person could fulfil all aspect attributed to the definition of an ideal leader/manager, but that a team could. Other unconnected negative form of pressure should also be considered when dealing with a Senior Leadership Team.

Fullan (2010, spb-161129: p3) talks about the various exterior form of negative pressure, such as a “blind sense of urgency, pressure without means, punitive pressure, groupthink and win-lose competition” that are rooted in the system “culture which serves the forces of inertia”. He illustrates his point with a “well intentioned” US policy, “No Child Left Behind Act” that served an opposite effect by putting unnecessary pressure in forcing schools, and consequently SLT, to implement an ideology without any well founded strategy, thus creating a “blind sense of urgency” (Fullan, 2010,spb-161129 p3).

Drucker (2001) argues that as much as decision making is acknowledged to be an important part of management, it is often the case that we miss out on the essential point by trying too hard to solve a problem rather than ask the right questions. He (2001: ) further mentions that “it is the people who work in the business that really count. Treating employees badly… will inevitably come to haunt us in the long run”.

This would essentially result in creating a blame culture where as Fullan (2010, spb-161129: p4) highlights, punitive pressure from authoritarian regimes only serve the purpose of creating a counterproductive team that generates an atmosphere of mistrust and individualism. However, Fullan (2010, spb-161129: p5) also suggests that no pressure is not the solution as it induces idolatry, but motivation pressure on the other hand can be a very powerful tool to create a “sense of focused urgency, partnerships and peers, transparency of data, non punitive accountability and irresistible synergy”.

SLT can introduce strategies such as the “Six Thinking Hats” by Edward de Bono as part of their school improvement scheme. De Bonos’s method is based on the brain chemicals studies, which demonstrate that different brain chemicals are released through various thoughts process, the method enables each team member to use their individual best by tapping into their own experience, intelligence and information, leaving aside their ego in the process thus creating “parallel thinking” (Bono, 2000). Bono (2000) argues that arguments are negative and slow down the process of productive thinking.

Whitty (2002) calls attention to the importance of school improvement, as a fundamental rule, lies mainly with the responsibility of the school itself. This in my view, brings back to the front the spirit of team work but also the value of delegating tasks according to ones best abilities or interest. Rodd (2006, p87) highlights that “delegation involves having confidence in the staff and their ability to act as responsible professionals”. I would like to conclude with an analogy with Napoleon’s avant-garde strategies, written by Robert Greene in “Descent of Power”, which I thought mirrored somewhat De Bono, Fullan and Belbin ideologies. Napoleon made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of warfare… namely that structure is strategy. The structure of your group, of your army, is what gives it speed and mobility, creates its tone, rhythm and way of action” (Greene, 2008: 1). Napoleon distributed power amongst his ranks and enabled them to make their own decision in line with his philosophy (Greene, 2008). This would be supported by Quinn (Fiddler, 2002: P9) who says “A strategy is the pattern or plan that integrates an organization’s major goals, policies, and action sequences into a cohesive whole”.

Therefore, I concur with Fidler in thinking that to construct an effective SLT team similar values that reflect not only a planning for the near future but also a vision of the long term future thus foreseeing possible obstacles along the way.