Formal vs. Informal Teams

Integrated services consists of a process of bringing people together to address the needs of a child who is having behavioral difficulties.  The significant people in the child’s life work together on a team, with a service coordinator.  This process is formalized through requirements established by the local governing authority, as occurs with Children Come First, and as will occur with the Coordinated Services Team initiative in a few months time.  In CCF and CST a set of governing rules are set up, staff are assigned, and procedures are established that become familiar to the participants on the team.  A formal team process is supported by well-defined structures.
A disadvantage of formal teams, frequently, is that only a limited number of teams can be supported in the framework of funding and management.  Children with significant needs who might benefit from having the teaming approach might not be served, because the integrated services program may already be running at capacity, or the child’s situation doesn’t fit the enrollment criteria of the formal program.  In such cases, it might be favorable to “invent” a team; that is, people who are familiar with integrated services might pull together a team spontaneously, because they believe it is the best way to work.  This kind of team would be an informal team. 
An informal team is created for limited purposes out of indigenous resources in the community; these resources aren’t ordinarily designated for teaming.  No staff from the formal integrated services program may be involved on an informal team.  The informal team, however, can form itself and start to work on the task before them, without being part of the formal structure of integrated services.
Good informal teams may function much like formal teams, although usually many of the requirements of formal teams do not have to be met on informal teams, because there are no administrative rules governing these teams.  Administrative back-up for informal teams is usually permissive; that is, the agencies allow staff to participate, although not required to do so within the administrative framework provided by integrated services.
Both formal and informal teams may run into trouble in their operations because behaviorally disturbed children often sow divisiveness amongst adults in their path, but the formal teams have more resources and structure to maintain good team functioning in the face of difficult challenges.  Informal teams, operating outside of the formal framework of integrated services, may not get these resources that are helpful in maintaining good team functioning.  The knowledge base from integrated services may not generalize to situations outside of the formal framework because of dependence on the whole structure.  It is very likely that formal teams have available specialized skills and resources that are critical in keeping the process moving forward.  These advantages may not be available in informal teams, or a part of the skill-set may not be available, so the process suffers.  The critical skill-sets and resources needed are not represented in a singular role or in an individual person.  Rather the whole structure of integrated services makes it work.

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