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All for one, one for all — getting the best out of your team

This article is a guest post by Matthew Spragg, a Senior Teacher at Kaplan International, Manchester, UK. He completed the Oxford TEFL Leadership for ELT course in May 2013.
Working as a team image
Working as a team ins’t always easy. Photo Credit: Mechanekton via Compfight cc

Taking those first steps in to academic management? Already been there a while but feel that your academic team isn’t as effective as you’d like it to be? There is more to assembling a positive, dynamic team than simply recruiting teachers with a range of experience and skills. I have recently followed a course that gave me a good look at my own leadership skills and have taken on board the following words of wisdom.

Find out what they think of you

Let’s face it; you aren’t going to get very far without the respect of your staff. By gathering feedback on your own performance on a regular basis, this will not only strengthen the relationship you have with them but also help you to develop as a leader. I asked my own staff for feedback in the early days in the role of leader, and learnt a few ‘home truths’ that I have already gone some way to eradicating. I like to think of feedback as looking in a mirror before going out to work in the morning – if you don’t check then you won’t notice that you have left shaving foam on your ear.

But how to go about it? Obviously asking ‘How did I do there?’ every five minutes is going to give the impression of someone lacking confidence in themself. Indeed as Duncan Foord points out in his excellent presentation Does my bum look big in this?, it is not only important to consider carefully who to ask but also when, where and why we are asking. He also highlights the value of 360° feedback, i.e. asking all of those you are in contact with both at your place of work and outside. Foord also mentions the importance of choosing the wording of your questions carefully, and the simple ‘How can I help you more?’ is one highly effective way of getting the answers that you and your team need.

One other side effect of this feedback process is that it may rub off on the teachers too, and if they are more likely to ask for regular feedback then everyone is going to develop and you’ll find yourself with a positive, dynamic group of teachers.

Listen and understand

So your team now know who you are, but what do you know about them? Understanding the individual qualities within your team will allow you to play to their strengths, whether that be placing a suitable teacher with that class that no one wants to teach, or choosing the one to organise the staff night out. In addition, if we understand and value the differences between the individuals in our team, then this can help to eradicate any friction that may occur.

Belbin describes eight roles within a team, and knowing who has the capacity to fit these roles is a key factor in team building. For instance an effective EFL team will require a resource investigator, in other words someone who can bring in fresh ideas to prevent the workplace from stagnating.

And taking this one stage further, if you can get the members of your team to understand each other too, then so much the better!

Learn how to delegate

You may think of delegating as a last resort, something to do when you have too much on your plate. However, if you delegate carefully, your staff will see this not as an order to follow but as a challenge to meet and as a form of professional development. Widening the skill set of the individuals in a team will help those individuals to develop as well as helping to increase the synergy of the team as a whole.

Learning when and how to delegate is a skill in itself. Even if we have chosen wisely who to delegate to, we need to consider whether to simply give instructions (or indeed orders) to carry out a task, or to give the delegated a goal and let them work out the best way to reach it. This latter approach is much more likely to motivate and lead to the development I mentioned above. Of course this ability to let go and leave your staff to it is one that some, myself included, may find difficult at first, but relinquishing control is a sure fire way of increasing team morale.


It goes without saying that a motivated team will be a more effective team, as well as being a more pleasant one to work with. Pink (2009) suggests that an AMP model for motivation (Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose) is much more relevant in this day and age than the perhaps outdated ‘carrot and stick’. The autonomy comes from choosing the challenge yourself, the mastery involves getting better at it, while the purpose relates to setting a target to aim for.

We recently followed Pink’s model when setting up an observation procedure at our school. Teachers observe a colleague and lesson of their choosing (the autonomy), perhaps focussing on a particular aspect of teaching. This observation gives them food for thought for their own teaching, leading to some research and development (the mastery). They then ask a colleague, perhaps a senior teacher, to observe them and give feedback on this area of teaching (the purpose). Letting the teachers take control of their own development like this has had a profound effect on motivation, although of course certain teachers still need prodding occasionally to follow this procedure.

I have put many of these ideas into practice in recent months and the results have been clear to see. I am now the proud leader (or should I say member?) of a passionate, motivated team who are prepared to go that extra step to improve themselves and their workplace.


Find out more about Oxford TEFL’s Leadership for ELT course.
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