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Complexity Requires a Team

“The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole…. We begin by shifting our attention from the problems of community to the possibility of community.”  Peter Block

Moving from "Hoping it Happens" to "Making it Happen"

In a time where schools and districts are struggling to navigate uncertainty, extremely complex issues, volatility, unpredictability, and ambiguity, human-insight and connectedness are needed more than ever to adequately address not only the concerns of the Pandemic but the loss of learning and family insecurities.

Change is not new to education. However, what is new is the speed, complexity, immediacy, and increase in factors associated with the change needed to navigate and meet the needs of our students, families, and staff. Our ability to readily adapt the way we lead, strategize, plan and implement will be the difference between success and disheartenment.

The conventional school leadership approach to developing implementation plans are often developed in isolation or with a few positional leaders at the top. They are typically fat or full of so many ideas that it easily overwhelms the implementation process (Reeves, 2019). The best a leader can do with their "fat plan" is to simply "hope it happens". The greatest plans come and go and have little to no opportunity of success without context and frequent opportunities for implementers to make meaning of the change during the change process. Strategic thinking and a shift in leadership structures are critical to lead and support any change effectively. To understand and consider the context while engaging in strategic thinking requires a shift in how the work is getting done and who's doing the work. It requires adaptive solutions and adaptive leadership. Successful change initiatives require an implementation team.

Implementation Team is the Lever for Success

Effective implementation teams ensure organizations move from "hoping it happens" to "making it happen." They do the work of implementation. In other words, they are responsible for operationalizing your organization's change plans or improvement initiatives. Leading and managing change is complex. To meet the intended outcomes of a new strategy or intervention, Implementation Science suggests that at least 80 percent of teachers must put the practice in place with a high rate of fidelity. Internationally recognized authority and author on leadership and organizational effectiveness, Doug Reeves, says that 90 percent or more is the threshold needed to achieve significant outcomes (2008). There are other contextual factors that influence implementation and socially significant outcomes. Contextual factors include but are not limited to:

  • readiness

  • collaborative structures

  • collective efficacy

  • belief systems

  • leadership capacity

  • resources, and

  • training

Navigating all these factors can be overwhelming for a leader. Without an implementation team to support the organizational context and culture, the factors listed above can quickly become barriers rather than boosters to implementation.

Team Membership

To be most effective, implementation teams should consist of 3-5 people dedicated to the organization's vision and mission and to the full and effective use of the innovation (the new practice, strategy, process, program, intervention, etc.). Team membership must include implementers. If you want to understand and successfully navigate context you must involve the people responsible for the implementation. Once the team is formed, they are accountable for developing the implementation plan and supports, creating organizational readiness, navigating and resolving system and implementation issues, using a cycle of improvement to monitor and adjust implementation fidelity and supports, engaging organizational implementers to share and make meaning of the innovation, and fostering enabling contexts such as collective efficacy. Implementation teams live in both possibility and accountability.

IMPACT for Implementation Teams Framework

The IMPACT for Implementation Teams Framework is an implementation design tool used to guide an implementation team's capacity building to facilitate the implementation and monitoring of evidence-based improvement initiatives and interventions. When organizational leaders and their implementation teams collaboratively build a culture around the IMPACT Framework components, students and adults learn. Framework components include:


Organizational leaders identify the type, scale, and scope of change needed to obtain intended outcomes. They identify an evidence-based innovation and the associated change behaviors, practices, and policies. Leaders identify Implementation FOR IMPACT team members and assessment measures to support implementation and scaling.


Implementation FOR IMPACT Team members plan and develop organizational leadership expertise and systems designed to facilitate change during all phases of implementation, ensuring all stakeholders routinely engage in ongoing learning and improvement processes.


Implementation FOR IMPACT Team members design and plan professional learning structures that ensure implementers engage in iterative processes focused on building capacity and scaling the innovation implementation.


Implementation FOR IMPACT Team members design monitoring plans that measure innovation implementation. They develop structures and processes that allow teams to use an improvement cycle to guide real-time planning and decision making.


Implementation FOR IMPACT Team members set the conditions that foster and support the development of collective efficacy throughout the organization.


Implementation FOR IMPACT Team members build, lead, and facilitate vertical and horizontal implementation teams that monitor and support the innovation and implementation efforts.

Questions to Get You Started with Implementation Teams?

  • Who might you include on your implementation team?

  • How might you repurpose existing teams to focus on implementation efforts?

  • What change challenges might your implementation team need to address?

  • How might you build a shared understanding of the problem and the next steps?

  • How might evidence play a role in informing implementation efforts?


Reeves, D. (2019). Finding your leadership focus . New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Reeves, D. (2008). Reframing teacher leadership to improve your school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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