I really enjoy working in “Hot Teams” on projects.
While I’m not exactly sure where the term came from in my school, I do know that it began being used in my first school year at Mount Vernon (2014-2015). I’ve been a part of a few of them, and have even been blessed to get to lead some teams. I describe a Hot Team as follows in the messages I sent out when I make a “callout” for team members:
To remind everyone how a Hot Team is organized and designed to function, it is a temporary group that assembles to tackle a project, and then disbands once the project is over. The projects are intended to be small in scope, but are sometimes intense in effort. They are not put together for long term projects, like MVPS/MVIFIR&D work.
Such team structures really remind me of how IDEO puts together its design teams – groups of diverse learners working on a challenge that has come their way. If I’m being completely transparent, it also makes me think of the Avengers – which is why I used the word “assembles” in my description :-)
Becoming (slightly) more serious, Hot Teams function very well in a school setting because of the way that its structure appeals to those in that setting – educators. A team is only as good as the people that are on it, so getting the right folks on the team is critical – and sometimes just getting any people on the team is critical :-) A Hot Team is set up so that there are fewer obstacles to participation that might discourage people from joining.
They are Temporary.
Teachers always feel like their are being pulled in many different directions – many of those directions are away from their students and classroom. Working on a project with a long, drawn out scope and time frame isn’t often seen as an attractive opportunity for some. But something that is going to be done relatively quickly, and will have a meaningful impact, is typically seen as more “doable” in a teacher’s schedule.
They Appeal to Passions.
The projects need to be completed in school are quite varied. Some are fantastically exciting! Others are repulsively agonizing. The beauty of this variety is that what is exciting to one person, might be agonizing to another. So instead of a project being assigned to everyone, or to a pre-existing team, a Hot Team calls out for volunteers to have the project assigned to them because they are genuinely interested in the project. And if they aren’t interested in the project at hand, chances are another one will come up that they are interested in so they’ll have the opportunity to contribute with that project.
Here are some examples of Hot Team projects where I have been the lead:
- Lower School (LS) Schedule Team – designing a more student-centered schedule to provide learners with choice and opportunity
- Cardboard Challenge 2017 – re-designing the entire learning experience for this school event
- Cardboard Challenge 2016 – organizing the logistics behind this school event
- LS Website Re-Imagining – prototyping the digital window into the LS for the Communications Department
- LS Media Center Re-Organization – identifying and classifying library books in a more student-friendly manner
On each of them, we had educators that were passionate about the work that needed to done, understood the value of the work to be done, and gave their all to get the work done.
Their Work is Focused.
The projects are very specific in nature; there is little that is ambiguous about what we need to do. How we do it is certainly up in the air, but our goal is clear. Even if the goal is to produce multiple possibilities for others to consider and then implement, the Hot Team’s task is concrete. Having a known endpoint reassures the team members that they have a direction to go. Further, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes from achieving a focused goal, which is motivating and energizing for teams to recognize as they reflect.
Here is an example of a high-level scope that I share during my callout for volunteers, in order to begin creating that initial focus:
- Goal: Complete the behind the scenes work necessary for hosting the 2016 Cardboard Challenge
- Driving Question: HMW create a Cardboard Challenge experience for students and teachers that is true to the purpose envisioned by the Imagination Foundation, and aligned with the tenets set forth by the Mount Vernon Continuum?
- Expected Life Span: 1 week, with deliverables ready by Tuesday, Sept 20.
— Author’s Aside: Reading this now, I wonder if the Driving Question should be asked before stating the Goal? We do start with questions, right?
They are Formed Organically.
Anyone can put together a team. Hot Teams are not something that only administrators can call forth. A teacher can recognize a need, and then put together a Hot Team to wrestle with it. The value of this empowerment of teachers can pay huge dividends in the culture of the school, which inevitably becomes the culture of the classrooms in that school.
They have a Rapid Response
Unexpected projects come up all the time in schools. I’m not talking about emergency crisis type things, even though that does occasionally happen. The unexpected projects can be about things like a new carpool procedure because of construction on the road to school, or a change in the school menu. Each of these could be something that a Hot Team responds to. Better still, you might put together a Hot Team to figure out how an unexpected project could become a PBL opportunity for students to take on!
They are Small and Nimble.
Hot Teams aren’t meant to be mammoth groups that need disproportionate amounts of management to make them function – “No team should be bigger than two large pizzas would feed” (or something to that effect) was shared in The Innovator’s DNA :-)
They should be able to respond with flexibility via their membership and working time as needed. Meaning, if someone can’t make it for every meeting, that’s okay because getting them caught up can happen on the fly. If certain people need to be “tapped” for a particular part of the project, that works. If people need to work on the project outside of the scheduled time for the team to meet, that’s okay. The team is led and structured in order to adapt to all of these.
I typically use a shared google doc to distribute the agendas, capture notes and takeaways, organize job assignments, and to begin creating our deliverables. Here is a PDF version of the 2016 Cardboard Challenge Hot Team Itinerary that we used.
They are Fun!
Besides just making the project that we have to take on more enjoyable, there is a larger purpose behind ensuring that fun is part of the Hot Team… and it goes back to IDEO – creative confidence. The Kelley brothers talk about creative confidence as “knowing your creative contributions and ideas are valuable.” In their book, they talk about how the incorporation of fun is a big ingredient in building one’s creative confidence muscle because it helps people entertain new ideas – which is just one of many reasons, by the way. In David Perkins’s opening plenary at Project Zero Pittsburg, he talked about how valuable humor was to “hack” the way people thought about ideas, or just thought in general.
Humor is a hack => reframed things in unexpected way bringing information into new pattern #pzpgh
— Jessica Webster (@jgroteweb) May 12, 2017
So knowing that, why wouldn’t you include a grin-inducing GIF in your callout for Hot Team members! :-)
Thinking differently is often exactly what completing a project calls for!
Hot Teams have been a powerful way for me to work with my colleagues, and the benefits that they have brought forth for our learners and our school are very significant. Who know what new projects will come up where the Avengers, err… Hot Team will have to assemble! :-)
— Author’s Aside: While this list above is created from an “off-the-cuff” list I scribbled on Post-Its, it is based on my own firsthand experience and coursework. However, each of the elements is most likely grounded in some larger theory around teams and teamwork. If this list resonates with you, and you’ve done some deeper reading/research around teams, I’d very much appreciate some links in the comments section to resources that reinforce, expand, or challenge this list. Thank you in advance for sharing, and I will be sure to pass it on to others.
Images in this post, but not shown in the Image Credits section, are my own.