8 Jul

Keys to Creating a Top Transportation Team

From School Transportation News / By Tony Corpin / July 1, 2024

Crafting a successful school transportation team demands a multifaceted approach that blends leadership vision, effective communication and a culture of trust. As record 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson famously said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” This sentiment resonates profoundly in the context of school transportation operations, where the seamless coordination of diverse roles and responsibilities is a key ingredient.

In the insightful article, “The Secrets of Great Teamwork,” published in the Harvard Business Review, Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen shed light on the evolving nature of teams, which are now characterized by diversity, digitalization and dynamism. However, amid these changes, the fundamentals of successful teamwork remain constant.

At the heart of every successful team lies a clear direction, meticulously developed and communicated by the leader. Without a shared vision that energizes and aligns team members, efforts can easily become disjointed. It’s imperative to lead by example, fostering a positive culture of collaboration.

Jennifer Vobis, executive director of transportation at Clark County School District in Nevada, emphasizes the importance of inspiring her team by sharing a compelling vision and setting clear expectations from the outset.

Central to building a cohesive team is the process of hiring the right individuals and organizing them into an effective unit. Despite the challenges posed by staffing shortages, prioritizing teamwork remains non-negotiable. Leaders must introspectively evaluate their leadership style and organizational culture to ensure that they are conducive to trust and collaboration.

Mutual respect, aligned goals, open communication and patience serve as the cornerstones of a successful team. As highlighted by The Trust Edge Leadership Institute founder and former STN EXPO keynote David Horsager, cultivating a high-trust culture is paramount for empowering employees and fostering productivity. Conversely, a low-trust culture breeds ambiguity and disengagement.

Events like the STN EXPOGreen Bus Summit and Transportation Director Summit provide invaluable opportunities for networking, professional development and team building. Leaders who invest in such conferences not only demonstrate their commitment to employee growth but also reap tangible benefits in terms of enhanced team cohesion and performance.

Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of Transfinder, underscores the significance of recognizing and celebrating exemplary teams through initiatives like the Top Transportation Teams Awards Program. During the Top Teams panel discussion at STN EXPO Reno last year, panelists identified small steps they took to build good workplace culture.

Recently on the School Transportation Nation Podcast, one of last year’s Top Transportation Teams winners, Transportation Director John Fergerson at Klein ISD in Texas, discussed how a love of children is baked into hiring questions to attract the right candidate. “Our people are dependable, they show up for our students,” he shared.

Fergerson also emphasized that transportation managers must lead with a good attitude and provide the support that employees need to feel wanted. Employee recognition holds significant importance and has a profound impact on school transportation staff morale and motivation. Recognizing the efforts and achievements of team members instills a sense of pride and satisfaction.

In the often demanding environment of school transportation, where personnel are responsible for the safety and well-being of students, acknowledgment of their hard work serves as a morale booster. Feeling valued and appreciated motivates employees to maintain high standards of performance and dedication to their roles because it identifies their personal contributions to the organization’s success. In the competitive landscape of school transportation, where skilled personnel are in high demand, retaining talented individuals is crucial.

The journey to building a successful team in school transportation requires a concerted effort to cultivate trust, communicate effectively and inspire collective action. By embracing these principles and investing in the development of your teams, leaders can navigate the challenges of the modern landscape while driving towards excellence and innovation.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the June 2024 issue of School Transportation News.