Building Strong Staff Relationships and Effective, Productive Teams- - The Ultimate Staff Strategies for School Success (Part II)

The 7 C’s of Staff Success: Building Strong Relationships

Dear Colleagues,

Happy Belated New Year !!!! With the holiday season and our transition into a new year now passed. . . and at least two weeks back to school, we now need to refocus our attention on our students and their continued academic and behavioral progress.

To do this, my most-recent blogs have focused on the critical processes that help schools and districts to maximize their staff and other resources relative to student outcomes and success.

In my last blog on December 19th, I asked:

Why are some schools more positive, productive, and successful than other schools that have the “same” amount of resources and supports?

In answering this question, I noted that:

The most successful schools grow, reinforce, and sustain a number of critical, underlying organizational and staff-related processes that facilitate and produce success.

I then identified and discussed seven essential organizational processes: the 7 C’s of Organizational Success. These were:

  • Charting the Course
  • Collecting the Supplies
  • Cruising with Purpose
  • Checking Coordinates
  • Correcting for Drift
  • Containing Crises
  • Celebrating the Voyage

Extending the Discussion: The Seven C’s of Staff Success

Complementing the 7 C’s of Organizational Success are the 7 C’s of Staff Success.

These (again) are process-related interactions that directly impact the personal and interpersonal relationships among staff members that anchor the productivity that drives school success.

The 7 C’s of Staff Success include the following:

  • Communication
  • Caring
  • Commitment
  • Collaboration
  • Consultation
  • Celebration
  • Consistency

Significantly, the 7 C’s are organized (see the diagram below) in a way that demonstrates that they are all interdependent with each other.

More specifically, Commitment and Consistency are at the center of the processes. This is because successful staff are committed to the consistent demonstration of all of the other five interactions in everything that they do.

Indeed, successful staff demonstrate high and consistent levels of Communication, Caring, Collaboration, Consultation, and Celebration. But- - because they are interdependent- - each of these, when they occur, loop back to enhance others in the process.

Thus, for example:

  • Celebration increases the probability of continued or enhanced Collaboration.
  • Caring increases the probability of continued or enhanced Communication.
  • Consultation increases the probability of continued or enhanced Celebration. . .

and so on.

Below, we will expand on the 7 C’s by defining and providing brief examples for each one.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

#1: Communication

Communication involves formal and informal, oral and written, explicit and implicit, person-to-person interactions. In a school, these focus on involving, teaching, reinforcing, sharing with, directing, or validating individual or teams of staff who are working toward common goals.

There are two important dimensions of communication.

The first dimension involves a continuum from formal to informal communication. At one end of this continuum are formal communications that officially document or direct staff to do or accomplish specific things. Formal communications often come from, for example, administrators, supervisors, or lead teachers who hold a level of position, authority, or responsibility over others.

At the other end of the spectrum are informal communications that occur on a collegial or personal level. Here, staff share information or perspectives, regardless of their position, that simply keep others up-to-date or informed of different situations or circumstances.

One significant communication challenge is to know where a colleague is “coming from” along this continuum. For example, what happens when administrators are communicating on an informal or collegial level, and yet their staff believe that- - because of their “positions of authority”- - they are communicating on a formal or official level?

When this occurs, staff sometimes take their administrator’s communication as an official position or directive- - when it might simply be an opinion or request for input. Ultimately, this “misperception” may inhibit staff participation in what was intended to be an open process of sharing and collaboration.

The second dimension of Communication involves the form of a communication. In short, communication can be verbal or written or non-verbal or symbolic.

Obviously, verbal or written communication is apparent, available, and “out there” for analysis and interpretation. Nonetheless, people respond or react to verbal or written communication not just on the content of the message, but on how it is delivered. That is, people respond to how direct a message is, the words or wording that are used, and the emotionality that they “read into” the message.

Non-verbal communication includes, for example, the physical posture, the hand gestures, or the facial expressions that accompany a verbal message. Sometimes, the non-verbal gestures or facial expressions become more important than the verbal message.

For example, if a school principal is verbally describing a new district policy, but is non-verbally communicating that “this is not really important,” how do staff interpret and respond to the verbal message?

Similarly, if the same school principal is asked a question about the new district policy, pauses for 10 seconds, and then asks for the next question, how is that interpreted?

Symbolic communications typically involve actions or the lack of an action. This is embodied in the phrases that emphasize that:

“Actions speak louder than words”

And that people need to:

“Walk the Walk or Walk the Talk. . . instead of just Talking the Talk.”

In this latter area, while many of us make good-faith commitments that we are later unable to honor (for all of the “right” reasons), some people make commitments that they never intend to honor. For these individuals, their (in)actions speak louder than their words, and their symbolic communication reflects their priorities and, sometimes, how much we can trust them.

In summary, Communication is an essential component of the personal and interpersonal success of a school’s staff. Sometimes, a communication is clear, but misinterpreted. Sometimes, it is unclear, and not clarified.

Thus, communication is an interactive, two-way process. For it to “work,” the words, meaning, and intent of the speaker must be accurately understood by the listener.

But it is complicated. Sometimes:

  • It’s not WHAT we say, but HOW we say it.


  • The ABSENCE of a communication often IS a communication.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

#2: Caring

Caring involves the interest, recognition, understanding, validation, support, and reinforcement that we give to others in the personal, interpersonal, relationship-oriented, professional, and/or spiritual areas of their lives.

Underlying Caring is motivation. When we care about someone- - whether on a personal or professional level- - we are motivated to support, sponsor, invest, or interact with them.

But Caring is a behavior. If we do not see it, feel it, experience it, or believe it, we do not necessarily know that someone cares for us.

At a more functional level, there are multiple “targets” for caring. Moreover, caring (like communication) occurs on a spectrum.

Relative to targets, school staff can care about different people: (a) themselves, (b) their students, (c) their colleagues, (c) their school, and/or (d) their district or community.

They can also care about different processes: (a) relationships and interactions, (b) fairness and equity, (c) effort and productivity, and/or (d) outcomes and accomplishments.

Clearly, people care about these targets in different ways, at different times, to different degrees, and in different amounts.

Relative to the continuum, people can care too much or too little.

When they care too little. . . this could be negative or neutral. Negative caring typically results in motivations and actions that personally or interpersonally “hurt” someone or that undermine a plan or initiative.

In contrast, when someone is “neutral” relative to “caring” about something, they either are totally unaware of the person or process (it’s “not on their radar”), or it is just not a priority for them (it’s flying “under their radar”).

At the other end of the spectrum, when staff care too much about something, this also can be unhealthy or counterproductive. Indeed, when staff care too much, they become so wedded to a person or process that they lose their objectivity, and their motivation and actions become obsessed, excessive, or extreme.

For example, when we personally care too much about colleagues, we may be more likely to miss, ignore, enable, or unconditionally accept their professional weaknesses, missteps, or even maliciousness.

Similarly, when staff care too much about themselves, then their motivation, decisions, and actions relative to students or colleagues become selfish, indifferent, or callous.

In summary, staff in successful schools care about each other on a personal, interpersonal, and professional level. Thus, from the very beginning, schools need to hire staff who care, and then they need to consistently nurture, reinforce, and sustain “the caring” to support the mission, goals, and outcomes of the school.

But, just as in life, there is a “balance” or “happy medium” to all of this Caring. Too much or too little of any of the 7 C’s creates an imbalance that often undercuts or undermines student, staff, and school success.

The challenge is how to find, maintain, and sustain balance in a sometimes unbalanced student, staff, and school world.

#3: Commitment

Commitment involves a dedication to a school’s ideals and beliefs, goals and objectives, and plans and programs that support students and families, colleagues and co-workers, organizations and systems, and communities and society. Commitment involves both attitudes and behavior. It is long-standing in nature, and it endures through good times and bad.

Collectively in schools, effective and consistent Communication creates trust; while balanced and sustained Caring results in staff who are motivated to the mission, goals, and outcomes of the school.

Both of these elements facilitate commitment- - for individual staff, as well as for small (e.g., grade level teams) and large (e.g., across a school or district) groups of staff.

But once staff commitment is initially established, it needs to be generalized across all of the other 7 C’s.

And so, schools must be committed to effective Communication, and sincere and authentic Caring in order to build and sustain Commitment. . . and then to the reinforcement of staff’s commitment to Collaboration, Consultation, Celebration, and Consistency.

Beyond this, rather than get into a lot of additional “detail” regarding Commitment, let’s “listen” to the wisdom of others:

  • Tony Robbins said: “The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.”
  • Peter Drucker: “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans.”
  • Mario Andretti: “Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal- - a commitment to excellence- - that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”
  • Margaret Thatcher: “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”
  • Jim Collins: “The kind of commitment I find among the best performers across virtually every field is a single-minded passion for what they do, (and) an unwavering desire for excellence in the way they think and the way they work.”

#4: Collaboration

Collaboration occurs when school staff work as teammates in well-functioning teams, and successfully:

* Plan, implement, evaluate, and celebrate projects together;

* Establish the commitment and consensus to succeed;

* Use data, problem-solving, and negotiation to resolve differences; and

* “Agree to disagree” when problem-solving is not completely successful- - keeping disagreements on a professional, not personal, level.

Critically, Collaboration is different from cooperation.

Cooperation typically occurs when dyads or groups of staff agree on specific group goals, and then work together to attain those goals.

But some work group members may not support the group’s goals. When this occurs, these individuals may “opt out” and refuse to participate in group activities. . . or they may be “pushed out” of the group and not allowed to participate.

Thus, when a work group has a disagreement or conflict, cooperation becomes conditional. Moreover, the group tends to shift to an area of agreement- - because they want to avoid or they do not have the skills or capacity to resolve the conflict.

Collaboration, in contrast, occurs when team members are able to work together both when there are agreed-upon team goals, as well as when there are individual or team differences and disagreements.

Thus, collaboration involves the willingness and ability:

  • To take on different roles for the good of the team (e.g., sometimes “leading” and sometimes “following”);
  • To positively recognize and reinforce team member and team strengths;
  • To critically evaluate, provide feedback, and directly resolve team member and team weaknesses; and
  • To function so that the “team is more valued than the sum of its individual members.”

As alluded to above, workgroups often cooperate, while teams typically collaborate.

Significantly, school staff are often initially organized in work groups and given tasks to complete. And, while they are given the time to accomplish the tasks, they are rarely given the expectation, time, support, or resources to help them evolve into teams.

In successful schools, there is an explicit goal and expectation that all school work groups will ultimately become fully functioning teams. Clearly, this takes both administrative and staff commitment and collaboration. And it only occurs by attending to and implementing all seven of the 7 C’s.

To summarize this section, think about the ways that Mark Sanborn differentiates between Work Groups and Teams:

  • Teams are internally motivated; Work Groups are externally motivated
  • Teams focus on a shared agenda; Work Group members focus on a personal agenda
  • Teams are innovative, and members change roles to meet team goals; Work Groups are static, and member roles are fixed
  • Teams share leadership and work from the middle; Work Groups have leaders who work from the top down
  • Teams have self-starters; Work Groups have kick-starters
  • Team members recognize that individual success means team success; Work Group members only care about individual success
  • Team members are interdependent; Work group members are either independent or dependent
  • Team members enjoy working with their colleagues; Work group members tolerate working with their colleagues
  • Teams have a sense of urgency that facilitates performance; Work groups focus on deadlines, and they underperform when under pressure
  • Teams thrive on challenge and focus on success; Work groups avoid risks and work to avoid failure

#5: Consultation

Consultation involves the recognition that- - when school staff do not have the understanding, knowledge, skill, confidence, objectivity, or interpersonal capacity to address a need, meet a goal, or solve a problem, they must have the willingness to find, listen to, and accept assistance from colleagues, supervisors, or other experts who can help them.

By way of analogy: When doctors are unsure about a patient’s symptoms or diagnosis, or when they simply need some reassurance on a challenging case, they get a “consult” or a “second opinion.” This is an expected part of the “culture of the medical profession.”

Indeed, if a doctor did not do this, and his/her patient died, all of us would be thinking about medical malpractice.

Unfortunately, however, in many schools, in the presence of a student or staff challenge, asking for a consult or second opinion is often considered an admission of weakness or incompetence.

And so, many teachers or administrators literally or figuratively “close their door,” rationalize or deny the problem, and continue to implement the same approaches that are not working. After all, they are thinking (and I am being somewhat sarcastic here), “The school year is eventually going to end, and the problem will be someone else’s.”

But (again, by way of analogy). . . if the consultation is avoided, the student or staff member’s problem is not solved, and this harms his or her future, shouldn’t that represent educational malpractice?

The “bottom line” is that we need to make sure that the culture and practices of every school in our country focus on staff improvement, growth, excellence, and life-long learning; and that they explicitly support the mantra:

“If you don’t know, you get a consult.”

One way to reinforce this mantra involves the development of “Consultant Resource Directories” at the school, district, and community levels. These Directories present brief professional biographies of everyone, for example, in a school- - specifically describing the areas of expertise where they are available to consult with others.

We have done this in schools across the country by asking school (and other) staff to complete a simple two-page questionnaire describing: their formal degrees and areas of certification or specialization; their formal areas of in-service training and professional development; their academic, behavioral, or other areas of experience and expertise; and their special skills, talents, or hobbies.

The information from these questionnaires are then organized, electronically on a school’s shared drive or in hard-copy form, into a Consultant Resource Directory with two sections.

Section I has all of the completed staff questionnaires, organized by grade level (or departments) and teachers, special teachers (e.g., music, art, PE, media, computers), support or related services staff (e.g., special education teachers, academic instructional consultants, counselors, school psychologists, nurses, etc.), and administrators.

Section II is organized by specific instructional or intervention skill areas- - for example, phonetic decoding interventions, cooperative learning strategies and techniques, ways to motivate students. In each area, there is a list of all of the teachers who are willing and able to consult with other colleagues.

With these Directories, teachers and others have a ready resource that they can use when they need a consultation on a specific student problem. This not only reinforces the mantra above, but it also encourages staff to share their expertise on behalf of their students and colleagues.

#6: Celebration

Celebration involves the formal or informal, intrinsic or extrinsic, individual or collective, and random or planned observances that acknowledge the accomplishment of short- and long-term student, staff, and school goals.

While celebrating individual achievements is important, successful schools spend more time celebrating group and team successes.

But. . . the celebrations should focus both on the tangible and measurable outcomes that have defined school success during the past ten years (notably student achievement and proficiency, and staff competence and effectiveness), as well as the process outcomes that facilitate that success (notably the 7 C’s).

Said another way: Schools and districts need to celebrate not just the successful end of the journey, but the processes that occur to make every step of the journey successful.

#7: Consistency

Finally, Consistency - - along with Commitment- - is the “glue” that makes the 7 C’s work.

Consistency involves staff members’ continuous dedication, focus, and acts of Communication, Caring, Commitment, Collaboration, Consultation, and Celebration. Consistency occurs across time, people, settings, situations, and circumstances.

And. . . as with communication, consistency breeds trust. And with trust, consistency becomes easier and easier.

Conversely, inconsistency undercuts motivation, and this negatively impacts staff’s commitment to and implementation of the 7 C’s.

For example, persistently inconsistent communication often results in staff frustration. Over time, this frustration results (along a continuum) where some staff become angry, aggressive, and act out; while other staff become anxious, withdrawn, and check out.

Similarly, persistently inconsistent staff collaboration often results where some staff would rather work alone, while other staff refuse to work at all- - because they are unwilling to take the sole responsibility for an assigned task.

Successful schools are committed to fairness, equity, and consistency. While this is clearly a process, without this process, schools will be hard-pressed to accomplish their products.


According to Sanborn, “A Team is a highly communicative group of people with different backgrounds, skills, and abilities with a common purpose who are working together to achieve clearly defined goals.”

In order for schools to be successful, they need to have a number of different teams- - working different parts of the school and schooling process. But in order to have successful teams, school staff (and teams) need to understand and practice the 7 C’s.

While this is not always easy, it is always necessary.

On an organizational level, we discussed the 7 C’s of Organizational Success in our December 19th blog:

  • Charting the Course
  • Collecting the Supplies
  • Cruising with Purpose
  • Checking Coordinates
  • Correcting for Drift
  • Containing Crises
  • Celebrating the Voyage
  • On a staff level today, we discussed the 7 C’s of Staff Success:
  • Communication
  • Caring
  • Commitment
  • Collaboration
  • Consultation
  • Celebration
  • Consistency

Each set of these 7 C’s provides a blueprint toward success.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

There are times when the path we are on simply is not getting us to our destination. When this occurs, we need to re-consult our map and re-chart our course (the 7 Organizational C’s), and then move on to blaze a new trail.

But to do this and accomplish our mission, we need to focus on the people who are “talking the talk, and then walking the walk.” They need to plan and work as a team (the 7 Staff C’s). . . otherwise, the new trail will not be successfully blazed, and the organization may end up worse than when it started.

This is the time of year when many schools and districts- - at the organizational level- - are already planning and budgeting for next year. For you, I hope the 7 Organizational C’s can provide wisdom, insight, and guidance.

Concurrently, we still have about half a year to accomplish all of our academic and behavioral goals in the classrooms and at our grade- and instructional team-levels. For you, I hope the 7 Staff C’s will reinforce the collaborative processes that already exist, and provide a blueprint to close the gaps that still remain.

Know that I remain committed to helping you accomplish either your organizational (strategic planning) or classroom instruction goals (especially for academically struggling and/or behaviorally challenging students). Let me know how I can help. I spend almost 200 days nationwide working in schools and districts. I would be happy to “add value” to the good work you are already accomplishing.