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Balancing team tension between autonomy and collaboration

Imagine this scenario: As an Area Leader or Head of Department, you need to support your team in collaborative decision-making to continue to improve student outcomes - rounds of student data cycles with embedded data-driven decision making are at the core of effective student-centred leadership. You and your team will have access to a wealth of student data, ranging from standardised test scores to attendance rates and socio-economic indicators. Together with your team, you need to know how to collectively and systematically interpret and best apply this information to adapt to student needs, to support student progress and to improve student outcomes.

How do you achieve the best decision-making outcome in this scenario?

Across school divisions and departments, one common challenge is to balancing team tension between autonomy and collaboration, especially when team members come from diverse backgrounds, and hold different mental models. Some of your team members may have a greater need to belong and refrain from asking probing questions that can be counter to a colleague’s approach; some individual team members may have low regard for collective thought processes which will impact interactions and outcomes; sometimes an individual team member might monopolise the conversation.


As experts in this field, we have developed tools to help you and your team generate the best possible decision-making process with valuable outcomes.
Feel free to inquire about how Management Kits can support here.


Middle Leaders, this one's for you! Keep in mind:

  • Your own skill sets - you will need the skills and tools to lead your team to collaborate and move from dialogue to discussion to decision making
  • The skill sets of your team - team members will vary in comfort and skills (and background, experience and personalities), and teams will struggle with decision-making when team problems are bigger than team member skill sets
  • Organisational structures to build capacity - you and your team will want to collaborate across teams to share strong collaborative decision-making practices to foster consistency, alignment, and continued growth.

“With strengthened team process a skilled Middle Leader and their department team will enhance productivity, potency, and the rewards of your collaborative decision-making efforts.”

Action Steps:

With extensive experience working across school divisions with Heads of Department, Area Leaders, Key Stage and Grade Level Leaders, we have learned practical approaches you can consider supporting your team to routinely make powerful collective decisions.

Promote psychological safety: Ensure all team members feel safe to speak up. Explore The Psychological Safety Work Tool for tasks focusing on setting the stage, inviting participation, and considering leadership responses.

Foster open dialogue: Intentionally build relationships among team members. Leaders must ensure the contributions of all team members are valued, fostering equal engagement in both talking and listening to support effective and equitable decision-making. Utilize the Communication Patterns Tool to assess your team's dynamics and define purposeful next actions.

Ensure clarity on decision-making: Misunderstandings can lead to frustration and breakdown of trust. Additionally, time constraints in busy schools with back-to-back schedules may result in rushed and top-down decision-making, bypassing the benefits of collective input. Allocate specific time in meetings for a collaborative decision-making process, ensuring clear decisions and alignment among everyone.


To access our tools, reach out to us!