“The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organisational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though its simple, free and available to anyone who wants it.” (Lencioni, 2012, p.1)
This is also true in schools. However, the changing landscape in education is making it even more difficult for schools to be healthy. Schools are pressured to make instant change whilst at the same time recruitment is becoming an issue, life/work balance is eroding, examination pressure is mounting and staff room morale is low. The organisational health of schools is at a low point and now widely being discussed on social media.
Over the holiday there were a number of engaging and thoughtful conversations on Twitter, such as #teacher5adaySlowChat, that discussed personal changes to improve health and whole-school strategies to improve organisational health.
I’m looking at what further bureaucratic aspects of T&L I can take away. I want all teachers enjoy what they do. #teacher5adaySlowChat
— Gary King (@Gary_S_King) December 31, 2015
So why does it appear that some leaders ignore or are unaware of the potential and influence that organisational health can have on school culture? Why is removing complex, onerous bureaucratic procedures for simple aligned objectives that are over-communicated to staff with absolute clarity so difficult when they can invigorate staff and improve school performance?
To improve wellbeing we often have to do new things. Importantly, we may need to abandon things that don’t add value! #teacher5adaySlowChat
— P Ottley-O’Connor (@ottleyoconnor) December 30, 2015
How come then do some leaders continue down the wrong path, when easier approaches can add better value? According to Patrick Lencioni (2012) there are three biases that impede on leader’s ability to grapple with organisational health.
Three biases that impede organisational health
The sophisticated bias. Some leaders believe that organisational health is simple and unsophisticated, therefore it does not need great investment. It’s viewed as being easy, too easy for any leader to dedicate attention to when other greater, complex demands are the priority. The hallmarks of leadership is challenge, direction and problem-solving, not wasting valuable time on health.
Many leaders struggle to embrace organisational health because they believe they are too sophisticated or busy pic.twitter.com/ld0u3RJUAJ
— Mark Liddell (@markliddell) January 7, 2016
The adrenaline bias. Unfortunately, organisational health cannot yield rapid results, instead it takes time and discipline. Schools are busy places and ongoing firefighting can become addictive. This can distract leaders from slowing down to see the big picture and make the necessary adjustments. Organisational health is slow, repetitive with even more repetition. It isn’t sexy, it’s too practical.
The quantification bias. The use of data has become an increasing feature in school life. Its role is necessary to school improvement but can cast a long shadow over great work that is more difficult to measure. This scenario looks unlikely to change with the increasing pressure placed on leaders by Ofsted and the government to produce rapid results. The consequence is a reluctance of leaders to invest time in areas of school improvement that cannot be evidenced.
Two requirements for success: Smart and healthy
Schools are places full of smart people that are capable of doing great things. You will have experts in teaching and learning, behaviour, special needs, data, curriculum, human resources, marketing, financing and technology. If there is a shortage in capacity or training is needed then consultants can be brought in to support. Smart areas enjoy the majority of time and energy, leaving the second requirement for success, which is health, largely ignored.
Organisational health is not about being soft but creating a culture that promotes coherence,motivation and trust. It’s not quantifiable and you can’t buy it but it can be recognised by minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and low turnover. This takes time and discipline but the effort will pay dividends in the long run.
Benefits of a healthy school
What are some of the big issues schools are facing today? Recruitment? Low staff morale? Ofsted? Teachers are complaining of lack of clarity from their leaders, unmanageable expectations, heavy workloads because of complex bureaucratic processes and lack of trust. It is of no surprise that many schools are facing a recruitment crisis? Why work somewhere you are not valued as a professional or provided support? Or in fear of being creative in the classroom because a poor lesson observation could mean your capability is questioned?
Healthy schools provide clarity of vision and expectation that creates a healthy culture that influences strategy. So…
— Allen Hall EDU (@AHallEdu) December 28, 2015
Leaders that embrace it believe organisational health is the casing that holds everything together. It touches every aspect of the school with the power to help or hinder.
Unhealthy schools operate by confusion and fear to reach their objective. This may be intentional or unintentional but in either case it is not sustainable and destructive. Trust will be non-existent. As a result, teachers will become suspicious of change, lack motivation to improve and leave (the school or the profession all-together).
How do you build a healthy school?
Building a healthy school takes time and discipline. Lencioni compares the process to building a strong marriage or family, “it’s a messy process that involves doing a few things at once, and it must be maintained on an ongoing basis in order to be preserved (Lencioni, 2012, p.15).”
The process can be carved up into four disciplines:
Discipline 1: build a cohesive leadership team – dysfunction and lack of cohesion at the top inevitably lead to a lack of health at all levels in a school.
Discipline 2: create clarity – the leadership team must be aligned and committed to their core values, purpose and expectations. The leadership team must be in full agreement.
Discipline 3: over-communicate clarity – the leadership team must then communicate to all adults and students enthusiastically and repeatedly.
Questions to consider when moving to the next step to defining each discipline for organisational health?
- How do you overcome biases towards organisational health?
- Does culture eat strategy for breakfast?
- What is a dysfunctional leadership team?
- What are your core values?
- How do you express your core values?
- How can leadership over-communicate the school’s core values to staff?
- How can leadership over-communicate the school’s core values to students?
- Do you hire smart or those aligned to the school’s organisational values?
- How can values be reinforced throughout the school?
- What impact will organisational health have in your school?
This is part one of a series of articles discussing each step in how you can establish organisational health in schools.
Follow @ahalledu on Twitter for next steps to organisational health.
Lencioni, P. (2012) The Advantage. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Article featured image and end of article picture on Organisational Health (Lencioni, 2012, p.14)