6 Strategies for Building an Effective Administrative Team

By Kay Worner

Book_SuccessInSuperintendency150pxWorner is author of the AASA book Success in the Superintendency: Tips and AdviceAASA members save 25% when you order the book using promotion code 6S10AASA until June 30, 2010.

To assist with transition and preparation for a new position, superintendents quickly recognize the importance of building an effective administrative team as soon as possible. It is this team that will become a resource, sounding board, network and “front line” for data and information collection, decisions, and ultimately, organizational effectiveness and efficiency. Whether they are called the superintendent’s cabinet, executive council or administrative team, the new superintendent relies on this essential group of people to assist in addressing the onslaught of issues that can and will emerge — even on the first day.

There are six strategies to consider when building an effective administrative team:

1. Select members.

The superintendent has the latitude to chose who s/he wants on the administrative team. Typically, team members are administrators already assigned major roles in the school district’s chain of command. In larger districts, those overseeing human resources, curriculum and instruction, business, community relations, operations and special programs are members of the team, particularly if their titles include assistant/associate superintendent, director, supervisor or coordinator of districtwide services. Administrative teams in smaller school districts with flatter organizational charts may include just building principals.

Depending on the size and complexity of the organization, administrative teams vary from five to 10members. Team members are responsible for oversight and management of a major strand of the organization. Additionally, they are directly subordinate to the superintendent and have equal “power ranking” with each other. This is important for open dialogue with the superintendent and among members themselves.

2. Understand the purpose of administrative teams.

The superintendent should use team meetings to gain the greatest efficiency and effectiveness for the organization. The meetings should:

  • Keep the superintendent informed of organizational developments, events and emerging issues.
  • Facilitate collaboration across organizational areas for resource use and program development.
  • Enhance camaraderie.
  • Strengthen inter- and intradepartmental communication.
  • Allow for discussion, deliberation and resolution of complex problems.
  • Facilitate decision-making.
  • Promote planning and strategizing.
  • Review school board meeting agenda items.
  • Familiarize the superintendent with the district’s past practices, strengths, priorities, needs/weaknesses, organizational relationships, and issues of the school district and community
  • Delegate important tasks for future reports and recommendations.

3. Plan for frequent meetings.

The superintendent needs ample time with the team to understand the organization’s complexities and to develop quality decisions. Weekly meetings lasting about two hours are fairly typical. The meeting frequency also depends on what the superintendent sees as their purpose. Well-planned, meaningful, regular meetings lead to data analysis, organizational improvement, planning and communication between and among team members. The mission and vision of the district is greatly enhanced by discussions at the meetings. Random or infrequent meetings suggest a lack of focus on and communication about critical district issues.

4. Prepare formal agendas.

Administrative team meetings, because they serve such an important function, are agenda-driven. Formal written agendas should be prepared in advance of the meeting. Team members are encouraged to contribute items to the agenda and be prepared to address those at the meeting.

Typically, agenda items are organized by function:

  • meeting dates, times;
  • discussion items;
  • action items;
  • correspondence;
  • team member reports; and
  • items carried over from previous meetings that still need attention.

Action items (those requiring resolution or recommendation) are usually first on the agenda to assure attention. A helpful strategy is to allocate designated amounts of time to individual items so the agenda keeps moving and is productive.

It is important to note that team member reports are an essential part of the agenda. The sharing of major initiatives, trouble spots, improvements and successes enhances member understanding of the organization in general.

5. Encourage the team model.

Administrative team meetings provide a quality model for team members to use in their own area of responsibility. They can use the model to structure team meetings with their lead staff. Furthermore, many items from the superintendent’s team meetings are appropriate for individual members to place on their team meeting agendas. This encourages organizational connectedness and communication critical to staff understanding and involvement in issues affecting the school system.

6. Develop team members.

The administrative team is both a work group and a planning group. The skills needed by team members to function effectively with the superintendent and within the organization may need to be honed and/or developed – especially for new members to the group. It is the responsibility of the superintendent to provide the necessary mentorship and professional development opportunities to members to maintain and enhance their skills as leaders and team members.

In summary, effective and efficient administrative teams are the result of deliberate efforts from the superintendent. These efforts produce positive results for the district’s students, staff and community.

Kay T. Worner is an associate professor of educational administration and leadership at St. Cloud State University. She has spent 34years in education, 23 in administration, and nine as superintendent. She was named 2004 Superintendent of the Year.