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Team Habits with a Big Impact

By: Christian Long on January 3rd, 2022

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Team Habits with a Big Impact

Teams & Culture

We’ve all been there. The room, half empty. Little to no conversation happening between the seated rows. Most eyes fixed on laptop screens, phone screens, projector screen, likely checking email or “checking email.” Everyone waiting for the session to begin in hopes of getting a nugget of information that makes the workshop registration worth the investment. Sadly, this is the reality of many educational workshops and conferences from leadership to technology to a focus on instruction. I’ve experienced it and I’m guessing you have too. If only there was an experience that provided meaningful takeaways that could be implemented at your own pace in order to make much needed changes to your organization and culture. This was my experience with the New School Rules Leadership Institute.


I attended my first New School Rules Leadership institute in August 2019 in downtown Nashville, TN. Knowing little about Education Elements as an organization and even less about what to expect from the institute, I took advantage of the opportunity to attend, despite it being our first day of school. Yes, the first day of school - who does that? Confident in my team and with support from my team of leaders, I took a risk, hoping the takeaways would yield a net positive for our organization in exchange for the time and investment in the institute. Thankfully, my experience was nothing like I described above in the opening of this post. There’s no doubt that the time was well spent and is continuing to have a positive impact on our organization. Here are three things I took away from the event, and are already having a meaningful impact on our work in our district outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. 


Small Practices, Slight Changes, Big Impact

We started small and slow, gradually implementing items to our team meetings that toe that line of comfort and confusion. 

  • Checking in to team meetings allowed for equal participation and opportunity for involvement. Even if you attend the meeting with nothing on the agenda, a check-in question allows our team to set a positive tone for our time together and be present in the meeting. 
  • To help with focus and time management, we also asked team members to connect a time requirement to their agenda items. Adding the component of time identification connected with agenda items was the other small adjustment we started with. This action, which we’re finding is quite an interesting study as we work to identify who has a true grasp on time needed for their agenda items, is easy to start and truly has an impact on the meeting. Even if you go past the time originally allotted, at least there is an end point or an originally-scheduled end point for each agenda item, preventing the “Oh, wow, it’s lunch time already?” meeting from occurring.  

These two small changes are what we started with and what we found, once we got into a rhythm with these, is that our meetings became something of time well spent vs lots of great discussion but often leaving the meeting with a full plate of tasks and an even fuller email inbox. 


Encourage and build up psychological safety

Another thing we realized as we implemented meeting check-in’s was the opportunities for openness and connection on a deeper level than before. This simple practice that requires very little time can be a vehicle for psychological safety and support for teams and colleagues, potentially in times of great need. Sure, we sometimes have check-in questions that can be fun and not directly related to our work, but I’ve seen firsthand where a check-in question along the lines of “What’s occupying your mind right now?” yielded a response that I or the team would not have expected or necessarily thought of. Isn’t that what the whole concept of team and connection is about, anyway? 

If the practice of check-ins creates a sense of psychological safety and provides team members with a comfortable place to share needs of support, professional or personal, sign me up. We’ve got to take care of each other - not that everyone is going to or needs to share deep, personal feelings, but providing the space and place via a quick meeting starter question is a great practice to create and strengthen relationships and teams.


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It just makes sense

We often spend so much time focusing on the items to be implemented without giving thought to how the organization operates. If we continue in this method, we are operating under a broken system. In order to perform at the highest level, we need to focus on getting things right with the organization and then focus on the pillars and items of implementation. I summarize with my team and colleagues: it doesn’t matter what awesome things we are doing or want to do with instructional and academic approaches - if we don’t optimize things at the organizational level, these items will not reach their highest level of impact, due to inefficiencies and lack of focus and/or resources being diverted elsewhere.


My comfort zone was stretched, my inbox filled up and I was hooked on a set of practices and protocols that just made sense. The New School Rules Leadership Institute came at just the right time for our organization. Now we are on our journey; a journey towards a more efficient, productive, connected organization, which will no doubt have an impact on our students, community and culture.  It’s rewarding and refreshing to already see the impact a small and gradual implementation can have, and this is only the beginning.

About Christian Long

Christian Long is an administrator for a midsized school district in Ohio. He's passionate about relationships, teams, and culture.

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