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November 2018Vol. 19, No. 9Building Teams for Effective and Sustainable Change

Written by the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States.

Organizational and systemic change rarely results from a single person acting alone. Addressing complex child welfare issues requires the collective efforts of individuals with diverse skills, roles, and perspectives, including the following:

  • Child welfare staff such as agency leaders and decision-makers with a big picture view
  • Managers with insight into programs and policy
  • Data specialists who interpret the numbers and trends
  • Supervisors and caseworkers in direct contact with children and families
  • Caregivers and youth who have lived experience with agency services
  • Leaders from the courts and community partners who share the agency's goals
  • Other important stakeholders

How can an agency engage these groups to build a team that works effectively to support change and improve performance? The Center for States' brief, Change and Implementation in Practice: Teaming, can help answer that question. The brief provides agencies with teaming support to develop their Child and Family Services Plans (CFSPs), Program Improvement Plans (PIPs), prevention strategies, or other strategic improvement initiatives.

How Teaming Can Help Facilitate Positive Change

Putting together the team that will implement practice improvements in a child welfare system is a crucial early step in achieving successful change. Working in teams throughout the process can help in the following ways:

  • Build internal capacity to manage change
  • Ensure communication between agency leadership and other important stakeholders
  • Guide implementation in a mindful way
  • Plan for the sustainability of new practices, policies, and programs
  • Foster buy-in for agency decisions and direction
  • Build credibility for the change initiative

What Makes a Team Effective

To successfully support a change process at an agency, implementation teams should consider the following at the start of the teaming process.

  • Identify the correct team size and composition—Two of the most important decisions team leaders make are which and how many people should be on the agency's change and implementation team. While there's no "right number," the team should have enough members to do the work, while staying as small as possible to facilitate communication. The most effective teams bring together agency personnel and stakeholders with a variety of roles, talents, perspectives, and skill sets. The team is not a static entity, and as the team's work progresses, the team's structure or the team members' roles may evolve. Though a single core team usually oversees the initiative's day-to-day work, separate subteams or workgroups may handle specific tasks.
  • Write a team mission statement and charter—The starting point for building an effective team is identifying the team's purpose. This requires the development of a team mission statement—a short paragraph that describes the team's primary purpose and goals. Having a clear statement will help team members and stakeholders get on the same page regarding the team's aims. Once the team is assembled, team members should develop a team charter—a formal document that provides the foundation for the team's work. A team charter clarifies team objectives, roles and responsibilities, decision-making processes, working approach, and expected deliverables.
  • Develop a communication plan and community outreach strategy—Developing a comprehensive, internal communication plan is critical for any successful team. To be effective, team members need to have regular opportunities to share their ideas, thoughts, and opinions and weigh in on vital decisions. An open communication plan helps build trust among team members, without which change and implementation work is much more difficult. The communication plan should also include an external communication and outreach strategy to share information with and seek input from community stakeholders. This will help create buy-in and enthusiasm for the change being implemented within the community being served.

Taking the time to create a strong and diverse implementation team provides a solid foundation for the overall work of achieving meaningful change. For more information about teaming and other change and implementation topics, visit the Change and Implementation in Practice web page on the Center for States website.