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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 2, Lesson 1

What is a Team?

Teams have been defined in many ways by many authors. Consider the following definitions:

  • A team is a group of people who are working together and share a common philosophy and common goal for which they hold themselves mutually accountable (Florida Department of Health, Service Delivery Policy and Guidance, 2004).
  • A team is an organized group of professionals from different disciplines who have unique skills and a common goal of cooperative problem solving (Pfeiffer, 1980).
  • A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable (Katzenbach & Smith, 1999).
  • A team is a group of individuals who are committed to a shared purpose, to each other, and to working together to achieve common goals (Briggs, 1997).

In sum, the characteristics that define a team include commitment to a cause, common goals, and accountability. The Florida Department of Health, Service Delivery Policy and Guidance document (2004) describes early intervention teams as "sharing a family-centered philosophy and working together in evaluation, assessment, development, implementation and review of the IFSP" (p. 51).

Why is Teaming Important?

Teaming in early intervention programs is important for a number of reasons.

First, federal law dictates a team-based approach to early intervention. In Part C of IDEA, parents are designated as active and involved team members. The parent (or primary caregiver) is expected to participate in all stages of the early intervention process. The law emphasizes the need for collaborative partnerships and coordinated early intervention services (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1997).

In accordance with federal regulations, Florida's Early Steps System emphasizes the role of service providers in "consulting, training, and team participation in assessment, IFSP development and implementation" (Florida Department of Health, 2004, Service Delivery Policy and Guidance, 2004, p. 10).

Perhaps the most important reason for teaming involves the enormous and lasting benefits to both early intervention professionals and families of children with special needs.

In a truly effective team, members share knowledge, skills and resources. Over time, team members become more competent and more skilled. A highly functioning team can help produce positive outcomes much more than a single individual.

couple holding baby under cherry blossom treeFamilies of infants and toddlers with special needs benefit both directly and indirectly from the teaming process. They benefit directly from accurate information, appropriate interventions and timely referrals. They benefit indirectly by the efficiency and effectiveness of a cohesive, committed, and collaborative effort.

It is therefore vitally important to learn teaming skills. Throughout this Module, theoretical, empirical and practical information about the teaming process will be presented.

Teams as Systems

Systems Theory

General Systems Theory was first described in 1968 by the German biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy. In his classic text (1968), von Bertalanffy defines systems as "complexes of elements standing in interaction" (p. 33).

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, systems theory was used to describe phenomena occurring in numerous fields of study, such as biology, physics, management, and family therapy. Systems theory can also be used to describe early intervention teams.

Systems share a number of common properties. Below is a partial listing of characteristics that define systems.

  • Holistic: Systems are wholes. You have probably heard the expression 'the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.' Similarly, systems such as families, sports teams, and early intervention teams are more than just a collection of individuals. The team functions as a whole, not as a collection of separate parts. This is known as 'holism.'
  • Interdependent: Since systems operate as wholes, an individual component of a system cannot be understood in isolation. It must be viewed within the larger context of the system. Think of yourself. Could anyone fully understand you without knowing something about your family system? Elements within a system are interdependent - they influence and respond to one another.
  • Dynamic: Systems are dynamic and changing. Yet, within all systems, there is a strong tendency to maintain balance or homeostasis. This is why systems such as families and work teams tend to resist change. There is a tendency to maintain the 'status quo.' The status quo is both familiar and comfortable. Yet changes can and do occur. Because system components are interdependent, a change in one component will affect all other components in the system. Think of a 3-person family as a system consisting of a devoted mother, an alcoholic father, and a depressed adolescent daughter. One day the father decides to stop drinking 'cold turkey.' He checks himself into an inpatient unit and complies with all follow-up recommendations. This change, although positive, will completely disrupt the family system. In fact, family members may even try to sabotage the father's recovery in order to preserve the old, familiar patterns of family life. This is an example of the tendency of human systems to maintain balance or homeostasis. If the father perseveres in his efforts to live clean and sober, the remaining system components (mother and daughter) will also change and a new homeostatic balance will eventually emerge within the family system.
  • Complex and Non-linear: Systems are often described as complex and non-linear. The interactions and patterns of behavior among system components cannot be described in simple terms. Linear, cause and effect explanations are not sufficient to describe system events. In order to discuss systems, we must instead examine complex cycles and patterns of behavior over time (Briggs, 1997). This makes the study of systems especially challenging for researchers.


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