If teaching is not your first job or you have been in any situation where you need to work with other people, you can probably remember a time when you were in a dysfunctional team. Teams can be the one of the most rewarding and powerful part of a job when working well; not only there is a great sense of team achievement but also a great sense of personal pride and work motivation. However, when teams are not working well, they can be full of stress and de-motivation causing bad productivity for the company resulting in good people leaving organizations and ultimately a poor working environment for staff.
Whilst writing this, I tried to think back to my own experiences of team working. Over the years I have worked in many jobs from selling popcorn and washing pots and pans in a kitchen to working in an office for a thousand strong companies. I do not intend this article to be academic but about my own experiences of good teams and what I think works well and what I strive for in my day to day life at EF. I hope that people may gain ideas from it to help build stronger relationships at their own centres.
First, I should state that I do not believe working relationship issues are cultural – not only between foreign teachers and local staff but within the foreign staff team and the local staff team. (I think that the latter two regularly get forgotten as the differences between ‘foreign’ and ‘Chinese’ are sometimes more obvious.) I personally think that we are all individuals and those good working relationships we all crave and bad working relationships we all want to avoid. I want to focus on things that I believe are cross cultural
This can be particularly problematic if some members of the staff don’t have the same first language as you. Although I am a trained ESL teacher and therefore trained to communicate with people that don’t speak the same language as me, I forget that some of the skills in the classroom should be applied with staff that I work with. English is spoken in our schools by the majority of staff, but in our very busy daily lives sometimes something said quickly in passing can be misheard or misunderstood causing doubt and confusion. I find that talking to someone and then backing it up with an email not only makes sure that the message has gotten through but it also means that that person has time to listen then reread the same message at their own leisure. Most EF local staffs have excellent English reading skills that maybe sometimes their spoken English fails to reflect. It may be impractical or you may not have the time to send an email to back up what you say but thinking about how you can communicate in different ways with staff may improve relaying information. This leads onto….
I read an article online that suggests that ‘we are all radar machines that constantly scope out our environment’ (I would only like to add ‘emotional’ before ‘radar’). Just as when you are having a bad day, your Small Stars (4-6 year-olds) notice it and misbehave, applies to members of staff too. Just because you say something doesn’t mean your body is saying it. Being generally sarcastic, nasty or just bad tempered with other members of staff can seriously affect the message that you are trying to put across. Staying professional and not bringing our personal lives to work not only applies to the classroom.
Sometimes things don’t get done at the pace that you would like them to be done or things change at the last moment. Being able to change plans at the last minute and being flexible is an important skill working in teams. If things go wrong don’t try and blame individuals. Look for where things went wrong and try and think how the system failed rather than individuals.
It is important to be flexible but it is also important to know when to say ‘no’ and giving reasons for this. If you make deadlines, stick to them. But if you are not going to make a deadline, talk to the people involved. Something small for you may have a massive effect on another’s work load so keeping them informed about any issues will help them to manage this. Sometimes this can cause short term friction but it is better to address problems before they become bigger than necessary.
Helping others achieve their aims and grow in themselves is why I love teaching and this also applies with work colleagues. Helping colleagues to reach their professional aims whether it is giving good constructive feedback from teacher to teacher peer observations or staying for 10 minutes after school to help with the last of the chef station washing up will strengthen working bonds between staff.
Lastly…. stay positive.
Saying good morning and smiling at the cleaner is important. Asking people if they are OK if they look a bit sad is important, saying please and thank you to people when they do things for you is important, suggesting solutions to problems that you find is important. A general positive attitude can be a fountain for others and brighten their day. A negative attitude can be a sink, pulling others down and causing bad feeling. It’s easy to forget that we make our working environment – so if we want it to be positive, we need to bring that positive energy too.