The Government in England recently ‘shook up’ its Department for Education. It changed its entire ministerial team and with it, its senior advisors. This is great in principle but, there are several troubling issues with what they have done.
First and foremost, it appears that the senior advisors around the new Minister for Education are all men. Also deeply worrying, is that they are all people who have completely supported everything the current Government have done around education over the last decade.
One of the most important things about any organisation and its ability to evolve, innovate and develop is its ability to challenge its own practice and thinking. We are all too aware of the danger of echo chambers, social media has illustrated that in the most potent of ways over the last few years.
We live in an increasingly changing and unpredictable world, one where agility and the ability to think proactively, ahead of the curve, is so important.
If we are to thrive in the future, then we need to see education as a catalyst for that shift. Sadly, the last decade has seen a paralysis of policy evolution as we have focused almost entirely on efficiency rather than evolution. The current Government don’t want alternative views, they see them as the ‘enemy’. People are ‘cancelled’, their voices shut down. Some are even placed on ‘banned’ lists within the Department itself; voices and views that must not be referenced or considered.
We have for too long, believed that all teams, organisations, and institutions must be staffed with people who all agree with each other, all share the same experiences and the same views. Whilst that may have worked in a bygone age, the age of efficiency, it is the death of innovation.
The most dynamic, most creative cultures are developed through diversity of thought, they are environments where people can speak their minds and express conflicting ideas. Environments that are steeped in trust not obedience and psychological safety not uniformity. Sadly, it is why the Department of Education in England will yet again miss the mark and it is why the wrong kind of conflict and polarisation will be further amplified in and around the sector and it will be our children who will suffer. We must all learn quickly that there needs to be change.
Here are a few things to consider when looking to build a dynamic team that celebrates diversity of thought and action.
Let go of the “need to be right”
The first step to managing different opinions is to welcome them, rather than fearing them. Ask what we can learn from each of those different views?”
Curiously approach other people who are different than you.
Take an interest in each other’s strategies and plans and ask questions about the approach. Just questions, not judgments. It may seem like a small difference, but it makes all the difference.
Invite and engage people into discussion, healthy debate and exchange
Take an active interest in others by asking them for their input and creative ideas. Assume positive intent, by doing so, you open up to the other person.
Look for the common purpose, what you have in common
What do you both/all want to achieve? Then communicate that to everyone involved and reach an agreement on a shared commitment to that purpose.
Discuss and agree on some operating principles
Use these to underpin your collaboration and teamwork. This removes the risk of many daily, and very avoidable, unnecessary conflict situations.
Figure out what each person's strengths are
Everyone has a unique set of strengths and experiences, different to yours. Know them, make the most of them, and highlight how you can achieve more together where everyone contributes the best of themselves.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Differences and tensions are often the result of lack of communication, or incorrect and unnecessary assumptions. If you’re the leader, communicate openly with your team at regular intervals. If you are a member of the team, speak up and communicate, do your bit for the team to create the right atmosphere.