An interesting Tweet — sent by a close friend of mine — landed in my stream the other day.  Here’s what it said:

Any reading suggestions for ways to address dysfunctional PLCs?

Good question, isn’t it?  And one that I’m sure a TON of #atplc folks ask on a daily basis.

Here’s a few titles that you might find useful if your learning team spends more time wrestling with conflict than focusing on student learning:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

By far the best book that I’ve ever read about dysfunctional teams is an oldie-but-a-goodie from the business world titled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Written in the format of a fictional story about the CEO of an imaginary company trying to straighten out her struggling executive committee, Lencioni lays out the most common factors that characterize dysfunctional teams including three that I think plague PLCs: an abscence of trust, a fear of conflict, and a lack of commitment to shared goals.

I read The Five Dysfunctions at a point early in my work with PLCs when my own learning team was dysfunctional on a good day.  It was invaluable simply because it helped me to quickly target the specific reasons that we were struggling.

Equally important, The Five Dysfunctions helped me to step back from the professional ledge.  It served as a reminder that human interactions ARE challenging to manage and that struggles are not a sign of failure or incompetence.

That mattered to me — and to my frustrated, exhausted colleagues.

While I didn’t include The Five Dysfunctions in Building a Professional Community at Work — my Solution Tree title designed to help teams through their first steps together — I probably should have.


Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High

I think that one of the greatest challenges of dealing with dysfunction on a PLC is our complete lack of comfort with difficult conversations.

Remember: in a traditional schoolhouse, dysfunction is easy to avoid simply because you can literally ignore one another for YEARS.  That same professional security blanket is ripped from your shoulders the minute you join a collaborative community.

The truth is that conflict happens on learning teams — and learning the language to work through that conflict in a productive and healthy way is essential for anyone who wants to move a dysfunctional team forward.

Crucial Conversations — a book that I read after one particularly nasty blow-up with a colleague on my learning team — can introduce you to that language.  It will force you to rethink your preconceptions about your peers and teach you how to find middle ground even in the most difficult and delicate situations.

One of my favorite tools from Building a Professional Learning Community at Workthis Managing Team Based Conflict handout — was influenced by a strategy that I learned from Crucial Conversations.


Camel Makers: Building Effective Teacher Teams Together

Another book that helped me to see my way through rocky times on one of my professional learning teams was Camel Makers — a super old National Middle School Association title that I’m not even sure is still in publication.

While it’s format is a bit hokey — it’s literally a fictional account of the initial efforts of an imaginary team trying to invent the first camel — it is a short, approachable title that I think does a nice job highlighting the common interpersonal challenges that learning teams face.

I wouldn’t recommend this book above The Five Dysfunctions or Crucial Conversations, but it might be a good choice for you if you’re looking for something written specifically for educators or something that is short and sweet.


Anyone have additional recommendations for my colleague?  What titles do you think would offer support and guidance to dysfunctional learning teams?


Related Radical Reads:

Questioning Practice in a PLC

What CAN the Principal of a PLC Learn from Love Labs?

How Much DOES the Composition of a Learning Team Matter?

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