How to build a good team and avoid serious conflict

How to build a good team from the outset

  • Clarify roles - At the beginning of the board term (every 3 years), take time to confirm or clearly redefine the roles of the board and principal. Establish the lines of communication between the principal and the board and between the staff and the board.

  • Get training - Get in early with training for board members and the principal on the dos and don’ts of a good working relationship. Make sure all new board members receive training as part of their welcome and induction.

  • Communicate openly - Make it part of your board’s everyday practice to make regular joint announcements from the board and the principal to staff and the community on matters affecting the whole school.

  • Value all contributions - As a group, learn to value and celebrate the contribution of each person.

  • Build the team - Help build a functional team by getting the board and principal involved in annual team-building exercises.

  • Strategically plan with input from the community - Make it part of your everyday practice to engage the community in any strategic planning exercise that sets the future goals of the school.

  • Work to strengths - Identify and work to the strengths of individual board members.

  • Communicate regularly as a board - Set up a system so that your principal and board chair meet on a regular basis – at least every fortnight, if not weekly. Use one of the meetings (leading up to the regular board meeting) to set the upcoming board meeting agenda and deal informally with minor matters.

If signs of conflict start to emerge

  • Deal with differences - If you find tensions rising because the principal and the board disagree on roles, it can be a good idea to agree to discuss the topic within set rules. Don’t hesitate to seek advice and support if you need it or if nothing changes. You might also want to consider training or mediation, depending on the situation.

  • Create a shared vision - Always remember the board’s primary goal – to create the best learning environment for the students of your school. This is the shared vision of all boards, staff and principals. When in the process of resolving a disagreement, make sure provisional roles are agreed upon immediately so the needs of students continue to be fully met.

  • Act with trust - Where appropriate, agree not to take legal/grievance action until mediation occurs.

If there is a conflict situation

  • Control heated discussions - Ensure that only one person speaks at a time without interruption. Ensure they speak to the point and leave time for others to have a say. Make a point of reminding everyone that name-calling, swearing and shouting are not acceptable.

  • Improve listening - Speak for yourself rather than making assumptions about what others think.

  • Avoid provoking others - Agree not to form cliques that discuss people behind their back – this can seriously undermine trust within a group.

  • Strive to make good decisions - Keep making decisions based on an evaluation of the issues and their impact on students.

  • Action decisions - Agree who will action decisions, and support and resource them accordingly.

  • Forget old hurts - Agree that certain issues are finished and will not to be referred to again. Ensure they are finished for everyone.

  • Address issues - If a board member or principal considers there are signs of a partnership breakdown, immediately address the issue informally between the board chair and principal. If the conclusion is unsatisfactory, organise a full ‘in committee’ meeting to address the issue. If either the principal or a majority of the board want the matter to be taken further, an agreed plan should be actioned.

  • Keep to constructive criticism and discussion - Agree that criticism will take the form of constructive discussion only when all the parties are present.

  • Show empathy - Where there is protracted argument on an issue, get the sides to swap over and argue the opposing view to gain greater understanding of the issues.

When you need to do more

  • Seek advice - Don’t be afraid to get independent advice if you need it. Talk to NZSTA, a kaumātua, another trusted principal or board chair or a representative of an appropriate organisation.

  • Use a facilitator - Select a board member who is skilled at communicating to act as a facilitator, setting special ground rules and making sure that everyone knows and acts on them.

  • Use a mediator - Agree on a mediator with proven skills. If agreement cannot be reached on a mediator, the board and the principal should each nominate someone.
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