The Secret to Team Building in Your School

Photo: CPI / 2015 Instructors' Conference
A new school year has begun. New faces. New smiles. New challenges. New rewards. In spite of all the new, the experience has a very familiar feel.
An enhanced Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® program was introduced this past summer. New options. New models. New skills. Amid all the new, we still find the core ingredients that have made the program a best-practice model for training for more than 35 years.
Among those familiar topics is Team Intervention. We discuss the benefits of using a team approach. We explore the topic of leadership. We examine the key responsibilities of the team leader and team members.
I am certain that you have encountered the word “team” numerous times already this school year in meetings, individual conversations, classrooms, emails, and mission statements.
Yet how many of us actually stop to reflect on what we mean by that word? What connotations does it bring to mind? What is your personal definition of “team”?
My understanding of the word crystallized when I was a school principal and heard an anecdote about Susan Butcher. Although I haven’t been able to verify the authenticity of her quote, the story really resonated with me. So, I will share it with you here.
Susan Butcher won the Iditarod race in Alaska in which dogsled teams race from Anchorage to Nome. Not only did she win it, she won the race in four of five consecutive years.
Reporters questioning her about her success pointed out that the Iditarod is considered by many to be the most grueling competition in all of sports. They also remarked that the competitors were mostly men. Not only did she compete on their level, she had beaten them repeatedly. The reporters asked her to share the secret of her success. How was she and her team of dogs able to win so consistently against all odds?
According to the story, Susan Butcher shrugged, and said that there wasn’t any secret. She said it was simple: She had figured out long ago that you just have to make sure that all of their noses are pointed in the same direction.
That was it! The essential ingredient that makes a team!
One direction. A unified sense of purpose. A shared sense of mission. The pursuit of a common objective. That’s what makes a team. Commitment to a common goal by every member of the team. All of the noses pointed in the same direction!
It’s not about being a good listener and communicator. Not about picking up the slack when others stumble. Not about willingness to do your part and help out. Not about supporting each other. As important as those traits are, they become irrelevant if we are going in opposite directions.
How often do we see teams become dysfunctional when members embrace opposing philosophical perspectives? How often do teams fail to meet goals when everyone isn’t pulling in the same direction?
The enhanced Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program includes a powerful introductory exercise. Participants reflect on and share the values that guide decision-making in the care of their clients. Participants’ values-based words are written on Post-it notes and are added to the poster displaying the words that define the philosophy behind CPI training: Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security℠.
These words remain on display throughout the program. They serve as reminders about why we’re doing the training. Reminders for why we work in the care of other people. Reminders for how we should go about our work. Reminders of the philosophy we must all embrace—and reflect in all our actions—in order to deliver the best Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security℠ for all.
So, what can you do to foster a common belief system? How might training enhance the culture of care at your school? What will you do to get all of their noses pointed in the same direction?
Please share your successes, challenges, and ideas!
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About the Author

“With empathy and caring as our guiding values, we can never compromise treating others with respect and dignity.”