Excerpted from Chapter 4 of Tools for Transition in Early Childhood: A Step-by-Step Guide for Agencies, Teachers, and Families, by Beth S. Rous, Ed.D., and Rena A. Hallam, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2006 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Claire, the chair of the Metroville interagency transition team, is frustrated. The team has been working for 6 months now on getting a plan in place to support some of the activities they are interested in implementing to address their transition problems. She was so excited when they finally identified the agency representatives to sit on the team, but now that they have the names, everything seems to be falling apart. First, it seems that different people are attending the meetings every month. This means that Claire spends most of the meeting time bringing people up to speed before they can move forward. Second, when they do make decisions, they seem to revisit them the next time they are together. She needs help!
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The community transition process is heavily influenced by the ability of community agencies to work and make decisions together as an interagency group. Interagency collaboration is a common need in most community initiatives. With the greater number and types of services available to young children and their families comes the need for more extensive and effective collaboration between the agencies providing these services. Implementing community-based initiatives can be both rewarding and challenging. Few would argue that collaboration among agencies in supporting young children and families is a worthy and laudable goal. In fact, numerous studies have been conducted, books have been written, and resources have been developed to help agencies work together more effectively to implement services. However, the increasing demands on agencies for higher levels of service in terms of quantity and quality, the recent focus on accountability for results, and limited financial and personnel resources serve to increase the need for strategies that make collaborative planning both effective and efficient. Using several important components of the collaborative community-building process, including communication and relationship building (e.g., Breznay, 2001; Page, 2003) as well as participation and consultation of various community members (e.g., Fawcett, 2003; Flaspohler, 2003), this chapter provides information on specific strategies for developing an interagency structure to support effective community planning initiatives.
As evidenced by the previous vignette, an effective interagency structure can support the team in how to work together to accomplish its goals and objectives, whereas a team without a formal structure can leave participants frustrated. A good interagency structure includes formal decisions about how the group will operate, the rules under which it will function, and the ways in which the team will continually build its capacity to make decisions and implement activities. The interagency structure sets the framework for how the group will work together to accomplish its vision. There are three key components of the interagency structure that help make the interagency planning process successful:
- Understanding team building and the development process
- Establishing a clear operational structure for effective participation across agencies
- Developing a meeting structure that supports planning efforts
EFFECTIVE TEAMS AND TEAM DEVELOPMENT
In community transition planning, a team is defined as a group of people who are working together toward a common goal or outcome. Developing effective teams requires commitment on the part of all team members. This process starts with understanding what an effective team looks like, determining where the team is currently functioning, and taking steps to build team success over time. Chapter 3 provided specific information on establishing the interagency team, including how to identify key stakeholders. Once the team is identified, the following characteristics of effective teams (Francis & Young, 1992)—structure and discipline, focus and productivity, conflict, synergy, team growth, and individual growth—are particularly applicable for developing communitywide transition systems.
Structure and Discipline
Teams need to attend to the process of their meetings as well as the content of their meetings. They do this by establishing a meeting structure and ground rules to govern the work of the group. For example, when making decisions, the outcome of the decision-making process is important because it provides directions about where the team needs to go next. However, the process used to make the decision is also critical as it has the potential to affect the willingness of the team to stick with and support the decision. If a team member were to believe that the decision-making process was unfair or biased, then he or she potentially would not be as committed to the final decision. Therefore, the team should follow guidelines that have been established by the group and show a willingness to update processes and guidelines as needed to enhance the team’s functioning.
Focus and Productivity
All teams should have clearly defined goals and objectives that are mutually desirable across team members. However, the effectiveness of the team is enhanced when team members have the capacity to actually produce desirable outcomes, including processes and products based on these goals and objectives. In other words, teams need to see action as a result of their work. When teams are focused and are able to develop products and/or make specific recommendations related to actions to be taken by their agency, following up on the implementation of these actions is critical to maintaining team focus and continuing to work together effectively.
Each team member should feel free to offer his or her perspectives and opinions related to the work of the group, strategies under consideration, and the ways in which the group is working together without fear of reprisal from fellow team members. Remember that conflict is not necessarily negative if it is welcomed by the team and results in better outcomes. William E. Channing, (1780–1842) said, “Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” However, equally important is for the team to agree on a shared method of problem solving in the group. This includes establishing steps and processes for how the group will handle problems that do not seem to have a ready solution.
Each team member brings personal and professional strengths and experiences to the table that enhance the work of the group. However, the team’s effectiveness depends on capitalizing on each member’s individual energy to collectively enhance the power of the group. In other words, the whole can be stronger than the individual parts. Working together, the team can better capitalize on the energy of the group to accomplish the goals and objectives set forth by them as a team.
As the team works through specific issues and begins to accomplish particular tasks, team members can develop new strategies and techniques to work better together as a team. This learning process evolves through honest group discussion about how well the team is functioning and then by trying new strategies as needed. To this end, effective teams provide support to individual team members, and their interactions demonstrate respect and trust between each member of the group.
Although team growth is important, the individual growth and fulfillment of each member is necessary if the individuals are to continue to participate actively. Effective teams understand that its individual members need to be able to grow both personally and professionally through their involvement in the team processes. Shared leadership, active participation, and shared responsibility across team members help support individual growth.
STAGES OF TEAM DEVELOPMENT
The Hobart County transition team really has been plugging along on the community transition plan over the past year. However, 3 months ago, the Head Start representative, Mary, took another job and left the team. The new Head Start representative, Jill, is a nice person, but since she joined the team, the team seems to be floundering and cannot seem to get back to where they were before Mary left.
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Four stages of team development were originally proposed by Tuckman in 1965: forming, storming, norming, and performing. The transition team can use these stages of team development to track and support their progress and to help assess the team’s effectiveness and levels of functioning within the team. For example, on an annual basis, the team can use the stages of team development, illustrated in Figure 4.1, to reflect on where the team currently is in the development process and/or on the specific stages they have been through over the course of the year. However, as the previous vignette shows, teams commonly move among the various stages, especially as membership changes in the team.
Stage 1: Forming
The team comes together for the first time in the forming stage. During this time, each team member must determine his or her specific place and function in the group by considering this set of questions, either consciously or unconsciously:
- Where do I fit in this group?
- What am I doing here?
- What role am I expected to take?
For new teams, members go through the forming stage together. This is an opportune time for the team to develop a common vision and mission statement so that each team member has the opportunity to participate in the process to see where he or she fits in the group and what role he or she can play in realizing the vision. As new members join the group, they—just like Jill from Hobart County in the previous vignette—must go through this stage of team development so that they understand where they fit into an already organized team. They must also have an opportunity to understand the vision, mission, and goals already developed by the group (see Chapter 3) to see where they fit into the team.
Stage 2: Storming
Effective teams understand the importance of structure and discipline in the team process. The storming stage is when processes are developed and/or refined by the team. Team members must determine issues of structure and control in the group; this process of sharing divergent opinions sets the scene for future interactions and determines the culture of the group. Questions that may arise are
- Who controls this team? An individual? The whole group?
- How is control exercised within this team? Through force? Persuasion? Consensus?
- What rules does the team operate under?
- What happens to those who do not follow the rules of the group?
For new teams, this is the time when team members will negotiate the processes and ground rules under which their work will be accomplished. Specific decisions about leadership, meeting structure, and decision-making processes to be used by the group will be made during this stage. Once the structure of the group has been decided and recorded, information can be shared with new members to help orient the new members into the group culture and facilitate their participation in the group.
Stage 3: Norming
Once the team members understand their roles and the group has a structure in place to support group processes, the team is ready to take action. During this stage, the team should use the team tools and structure put in place to set goals and develop action plans that will guide the work of the group. Questions the team may face include
- What goals do we want to set?
- How do the goals fit with our vision and mission?
- What does our action plan need to look like?
During the norming stage, the team should decide the overall course and select long-term goals as a group; however, the team members may determine that they would benefit from breaking into subgroups or from working in smaller teams to accomplish specific tasks and actions.
Stage 4: Performing
This final stage of team development represents a team that is functioning well and is able to accomplish the work of the group effectively and efficiently. During this stage of development, the team is able to reach key decisions and produce desired outcomes that are valued and implemented by all team members. At this stage of the process, team members need to be vigilant, to continually assess their functioning, and to be willing to respond to any signs that team functioning is deteriorating, addressing issues quickly.
The goal of this book is to provide the community with steps and strategies for building a transition system that supports the team in working through the stages of team development and that results in a team that is able to reach Stage 4—the performing stage. However, one important thing to remember about team stages is that they change as membership in the group changes. As new members join a team, the team will naturally go back through the stages of development with the new members. This process takes time, so teams should try to minimize the changes in team membership and develop strategies for quickly orienting new team members when they do join the group. Specific strategies include
- Develop an orientation packet for new members that describe the team structure, processes, and ground rules as well as the current goals, objectives, and activities for the group.
- Establish a mentoring system so that new members receive information about the group prior to their first meeting. It is usually helpful for an outgoing member to serve as a mentor for an incoming member, especially if the two members represent the same agency or organization.