How many great jazz musicians create their masterpieces working alone, meeting with other members of the group once or twice a month to see how their own riffs merge with those of their collaborators? None.
Many of use have been talking and writing about breaking down silos in schools. Modeling this change in how we are structured and operate will have to start at the top. Bo Adams wrote last week about Michael Michalko’s metaphor of the learning cathedral. We need to paint the same picture, both in theory and practice, for our senior leadership teams. What if we truly organized our leadership teams around a single table rather than in long, disjointed halls of infrequent mental and physical interaction?
Braden Kelley writes about the importance of forming “insight networks” or teams within our organizations to track emerging trends, behaviors, and needs, including changes in demography, competition, new business models, emerging technologies, and more. He correctly asks: “who in your organization is responsible for doing this?” The answer in our schools: the head and the senior leadership team, and possible a subcommittee of the board. The problem is that this responsibility is assigned by default, and these groups meet and truly discuss industry insights for an hour once a year at the annual leadership retreat. This is just not going to work in the volatile and rapidly changing terrain of our knowledge-based industry.
Here is what I suggest: our school leadership teams are natural insight networks, but we don’t extract what we can from the network because they have no time and place to operate. In a perfect world (or if you are designing a new campus building), our leadership team would spend their days in that cathedral that Michalko talked about. I would design an administrative building with small offices for senior staff all opening into a single large room, preferably with windows or a high ceiling, and one large round table. Unless our leaders were on a private phone call or in a meeting that required a closed door, they would spend time around that big table, learning how to do their daily work at the same time they continuously interact with their colleagues.
Senior leadership represents the nexus of the organizational neural network, and the more that network is in connectivity mode, the more insight is shared, and the more dynamic the creation and development of truly innovative practices throughout the organization. If members of that group are distracted from this high-level interaction by the daily grind, they need to distribute those other duties. The connection, sharing of insight, bringing the outside of the organization unfiltered directly to decision makers; this is key to good leadership. This is key to really good, well-orchestrated, timeless music!
Most of us will not tear down the physical walls and create this shared space; that is too bad. But we can still operate in this mode. Leaders have to model vastly more frequent collaboration on issues that we push aside as we tend to the fires of the day. That is wrong and we have to change. Whether you are an all-school leader or the leader of a single department, think about how you can create real, frequent time, space, and impact opportunities for an emerging insight network.