Module 3: Implementation Teams

Welcome to the Active Implementation Hub. In this module your will learn about Implementation Teams.

Learning Objectives

After this module, you should be able to:

Knowledge Objectives

Practice Objectives

Module Content Structure

This module’s content is structured via three categories:


Module 3 Table of Contents



Implementation Teams consist of the people who do the work of implementation (Stages, Drivers, and Improvement Cycles) with Usable Innovations. They develop and sustain capacity to assure intended academic and behavioral outcomes are realized. The work of Implementation Teams requires knowledge, skills, and abilities that are available, but not commonly used deliberately. For applied purposes and illustration, this module uses state and local educational systems as context. This module is designed to assist educators (e.g., in schools, districts and state agencies) in building Active Implementation capacity to ensure improved academic and behavioral outcomes for all students.


Topic 1: Definitions

Implementation Teams are the “Who” of Active Implementation.  An Implementation Team is an organized and active group that supports the implementation, sustainability, and scale-up of usable innovations by integrating the use of implementation stages, drivers and improvement cycles.  Forming an Implementation Team does not require new staff to engage in the work of implementation. Many times existing positions or teams can be repurposed to achieve the functions required of Implementation Teams. Important selection criteria from Implementation Team members are as follows:

It is important to note, Implementation Teams are NOT advisory groups or committees or representatives.  They are not groups who provide periodic input (e.g., occasional meetings for decision-making or discussion).  Implementation Teams are actively involved on a daily basis with implementation efforts devoted to assuring the full and effective uses of effective innovations.

The purpose of improving the competency and confidence of staff members is so they can better use effective innovations in their classrooms – where students participate in active learning.  So, let’s begin with an overview of teaming structures in a state educational system that can support full and effective use of usable innovations.

Linked Implementation Teams

One Implementation Team is not enough to assure excellent outcomes for all students in a state.  To use effective innovations on a useful scale requires a thoughtful arrangement of Implementation Teams.  While this may seem complicated, keep in mind that Implementation Teams make use of the same Active Implementation Frameworks at each level.  Each team described below is charged with doing its part to a) support the work of teams at the level “below” them and b) engage in activities that ensure that the overall implementation infrastructure is developed to:

  • Support staff in delivering innovations as intended and improving outcomes for students
  • Sustain the innovation over time and across staff
  • Scale-up the innovation over time and across units
  • Ensure continuous improvement of fidelity and student outcomes

An infrastructure of linked Implementation Teams contributes to creating coherent and aligned system functions. By working together with a singular focus on the quality of instruction and classroom management, the teams can help create a shared culture of innovation with good outcomes.

As shown in the figure below, an infrastructure comprised of linked teams can help reduce isolated silos that typify large systems.  By working simultaneously with multiple levels of an education system, Implementation Teams can help encourage greater integration, coherence, and focus to the system as whole.  By aligning activities and functions with desired outcomes for students, Implementation Teams and leaders in education can build a lasting capacity for responsible change.

Figure 3.1: Simultaneous, Multi-Level
Team Alignment in an Educational System


Engaged leadership is critical at each level of an implementation infrastructure.  Establishing Implementation Teams requires changes in current department of education functions, roles, and structures.  This will not happen without leadership that is engaged in creating opportunities for responsible change and managing change processes once they are underway. 

In education, the State Implementation Team and Regional Implementation Teams are closely aligned with the Chief State School Officer and his or her State Management Team.  District Implementation Teams operate as part of district superintendent offices.  Building Implementation Teams report directly to school principals.

Leadership support for Implementation Teams needs to be embedded and part of standard education services in states, districts, and schools.  For example, current infrastructures for finance and information technology are embedded and enduring.  An implementation infrastructure needs to become appreciated and supported in a similar way, even as leaders come and go.

The table below helps emphasize the common functions of leadership and Implementation Teams within a state education system.  Implementation Teams always report to and are a part of a leadership team, and employ a common set of active implementation frameworks to align system resources and support teacher and staff uses of effective innovations to produce excellent student outcomes.

Table 3.1. Functions of leadership and Implementation Teams within a state education system

LOCATION State District School
TARGET OUTCOME Create and support DIT Create and support BIT Support Teachers/Fidelity


Legend: State Management Team (SMT), District Management Team (DMT), Building Management Team (BMT), Regional Implementation Team (RIT), District Implementation Team (DIT), Building Implementation Team (BIT)

Apply It Now

Building, District and Regional Implementation Teams in an Educational System

Each team is a part of the implementation infrastructure to support staff competence, organization supports and facilitate leadership at and below their respective level. Likewise, they have dedicated personnel FTE to engage in best practice implementation work.

Building Implementation Teams

The focus of the Building Implementation Team is helping teachers and staff in the school use effective innovations with fidelity to achieve intended outcomes.  Building Implementation Teams are essential to support teachers and staff as they attempt to use effective innovations in their daily interactions with students.  Students will benefit (or not) depending on the quality of those interactions.  Innovative practices are, by definition, new and different from typical education practices.  Teachers and staff should not be expected to somehow “just do it.”  They deserve the support of a Building Implementation Team (BIT). 

District Implementation Teams

Building Implementation Teams do not just appear in sufficient numbers to make a difference in an entire state education system.  These school-based Building Implementation Teams are developed and supported by District Implementation Teams (DIT).  Effective use of innovations requires changes in district supports for schools.  The focus of a District Implementation Team is to develop an effective Building Implementation Team (BIT) in each building in the district.  Using the Active Implementation Frameworks as a guide, District Implementation Teams (DIT) help form building-based teams, support the development of team competencies, help principals and staff adjust school administrative practices to align with teachers’ use of effective innovations, and help assure leadership engagement with and support for effective innovations and Implementation Team functions.

Regional Implementation Teams

Like teachers and schools, districts also need support for the development of Implementation Teams.  The purpose of a Regional Implementation Team (RIT) is to develop an effective District Implementation Team in each district in its region.  In turn, Regional Implementation Teams are formed, developed, and supported by a State-based Implementation Team.

Topic 2: Research and Rationales

Why are Implementation Teams Important?

Organized and effective Implementation Teams make a big difference for achieving socially significant outcomes.  Without Implementation Teams to do the work of implementation, districts, schools, regions, and states are left to their own imaginations to figure out implementation science and best practices.  Implementation by exhortation, like other ineffective approaches, nets about 15% use of effective innovations and hoped for outcomes.  In their studies of the use of several comprehensive school reforms in thousands of schools, Vernez et al. (2006) and Aladjem & Borman (2006) found that about 10% of the reforms were used as intended (with fidelity) after 5 years of funding. 

A modest investment in competent Implementation Teams to support the use of comprehensive school reforms could have led to dramatically improved use and outcomes, and could have created a lasting implementation resource in those schools and districts.  For example, with the support of competent Implementation Teams, over 80% of attempted implementation sites met criteria for certification (fidelity).  Without the support of Implementation Teams, only 30% met certification requirements (Fixsen, Blase, Timbers, & Wolf, 2001).  The authors also found that the time required to achieve certification (fidelity) was reduced from nearly 7 years to 3.6 years.  Thus, Implementation Teams contributed to increased success and efficiency.  Implementation Teams have been called a new lever for organization change in education (Higgins, Weiner, & Young, 2012)

Studies by Balas and Boren (2000) and Green and Seifert (2005) tracked typical results for evidence-based programs.  Their results indicate that 14% of well-researched innovations are used in practice and it takes 17 years to accomplish that modest level of use.  This pace of implementation leaves education systems churning around a mediocre mean (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983; Grigg et al., 2003; Kutner et al., 2007) as innovation is slow and few innovations are used effectively in practice.  These data emphasize how critical it is to have organized, active capacity provided through Implementation Teams.  Just as students need effective teachers, teachers and administrators need effective supports to ensure implementation.

Why are Implementation Teams effective? 

In their review of literature on dissemination and diffusion of innovations, Greenhalgh, Robert, MacFarlane, Bate, & Kyriakidou (2004) made helpful distinctions between passive and active forms of assistance for ensuring that effective implementation occurs. Greenhalgh and her colleagues noted that the field has shifted from what they call, ‘letting it happen’ and ‘helping it happen’ to ‘making it happen’ approaches.  Hall and Hord (1987) made the same distinctions with respect to school leadership.  Principals who employed more active, making it happen approaches to using innovations were much more successful.  Fixsen, et al. (2011), have made use of these distinctions and applied them to characterizing implementation approaches:

“Letting it happen” – A policy or program has been mandated or adopted and, with minimal supports, practitioners are expected to make the translation from information to practice and are held accountable for the intended outcomes.

“Helping it happen” – A policy or program has been mandated or adopted and materials, training resources, and websites are provided to support practitioners.  The practitioners are left to figure out how to solve problems that arise, and are held accountable for achieving positive outcomes.

“Making it happen”– A policy or program has been mandated or adopted and active and purposeful implementation best practices are provided to help practitioners and administrators.  The Implementation Team is accountable for developing the implementation support systems, resolving organization and system issues that arise, and achieving positive results.


Activity 3.1
EBP Drive Around

Jot down different EBPs/EIIs that you have experienced, participated in or led and pick one of those initiatives that has been in place the longest. Then, “drive around” the Implementation Drivers diagram and reflect on the questions provided.

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Topic 3: Key Functions

Formula for Success

Implementation Teams become fluent in using Active Implementation Frameworks.  They engage in stage-based work to help identify and build upon current system strengths, help manage expectations, highlight systems change success, and focus on creating communication pathways among and across stakeholders.  These key functions are reviewed in the next section.

Function 1: Ensure Implementation

Implementation of EBPs/EIIs is a non-linear process with many challenges and setbacks.  In education, Building, District, and Regional Implementation Teams will have the task of taking many districts and schools through the process so student outcomes can be improved purposefully.  With the help of an Implementation Team, teachers and staff, district administrators, and regional entities will have support to reach Full Implementation more quickly and successfully.  Even so, the process takes time and success is not guaranteed.  

While there are unique roles and functions for Implementation Teams, there also are common functions that apply to any team in any stage.  These functions include:

  1. Assessing and creating ongoing “buy-in” and readiness
  2. Installing and sustaining Implementation Drivers
  3. Monitoring implementation fidelity of the EBP/EII and related outcomes
  4. Action Planning: Aligning system functions and managing stage-based work
  5. Solving problems and building sustainability

Let’s have a little closer look at each of these stage-based activities.

1. Assessing and creating ongoing “buy-in” and readiness

Readiness for change seems to be an essential condition for successful change in a timely manner (Hall & Hord, 2011; Romney et al., in press; Telfer, 2011).  Common questions asked by stakeholders are:

  • What will be different this time?
  • Is this just another ‘fad’ that will pass?  Why should I invest my time or energy?
  • What was wrong with the way we have been doing things?  Does this mean I have been performing poorly?
  • How can I get more information? How can I participate?

Implementation Teams provide information about the reasons for change; the innovation; and, the implementation supports and commitment of leaders to make changes in the system that will facilitate the effective use of innovations in classrooms, buildings and districts.  Implementation Team work supports the “buy-in” process and creates readiness.


Creating Readiness in Education

There are increasing demands on educators. Waiting for readiness to occur simultaneously among teachers, schools, and districts may take a long time and leave the education system churning around a mediocre mean.  An alternative is to support Implementation Teams so they can help create readiness.  The figure below shows that an important function of Implementation Teams is to work with various individuals and groups to help them think about the need for change, get ready for change, and to actively participate in the change process.  80% of the work of an Implementation Team is creating readiness.

Figure 3.2 Implementation Teams and Readiness




2. Installing and sustaining Implementation Drivers

Each Team, at each level of the system, needs to be purposeful in deciding its role and responsibility in installing, sustaining and improving Implementation Drivers.  Implementation Drivers are the key components of capacity, and the functional infrastructure supports, that enable a program to be implemented as intended.  Supporting the use of innovations with fidelity increases the likelihood of creating positive student outcomes. Each Implementation Team has a role to play in ensuring Implementation Drivers are of high quality, funded, sustainable, and improved over time. And collectively the Implementation Teams need to ensure that all the Implementation Drivers are put to good use to support teachers and staff so that students benefit.

Learn More: Module 2: Implementation Drivers

3. Monitoring implementation fidelity of the EBP/EII and related outcomes

Fidelity assessments provide valuable information the Team can use for action planning and decision making. 

  • Fidelity and outcome data systems help determine whether the EBP/EII is being used as intended in interactions with students (e.g. formative), and if the use of the innovation is producing positive results for all students in a classroom, school, or district (e.g., summative)
  • Data about fidelity and outcomes give an Implementation Team the detailed information needed to develop action plans.  If the results are not as positive as expected, the team can determine if results are due to selecting an inappropriate or ineffective innovation (high fidelity/poor outcomes), or are due to a lack of fidelity in its implementation (low fidelity/poor outcomes).  If the results meet current expectations (high fidelity/good outcomes), action plans can be developed to improve effectiveness and efficiency.  Very different action plans will be developed depending on the results of this analysis.

4. Action Planning: Aligning systems and managing stage-based work

Implementation Teams do the purposeful work of action planning around the implementation process. Teams hold regular meetings to action plan to:

  • Guide and direct activities based on data collection regarding readiness for each stage of work
  • Ensure implementation supports are in place to ensure fidelity of the selected innovations
  • Ensure that system functions are aligned to support the new practice and they are diligent in referring issues of “misalignment” to relevant teams or individuals for resolution

5. Solving problems and building sustainability

Teams hold regular meetings to examine outcome and fidelity data, to action plan and to build and maintain the infrastructure to support the delivery of effective innovations.

They establish feedback loops between and among the various levels of teams to:

  • Share information about the facilitators to successful implementation
  • Identify and remove barriers to successful implementation
  • Routinely communicate directly with policy makers and administrators who can address roadblocks and develop systemic solutions to systems problems

Learn More: Handout 08: Communication Protocols Worksheet 

Function 2: Engage the Community

A critical role and function of any Implementation Team is to engage its community.  Involving stakeholders in a meaningful way creates opportunities to share information, address concerns, “mine” the expertise they bring, and build support for decisions.

In Education, depending on the EBI/EII, “Community” may include genuine parent/family partnership that is representative of all students, union representation, as well as school improvement and community partners such as mental health, early childhood services, etc.

Genuine outreach and transparent communication support Implementation Teams in making sound decisions and monitoring the impact of their decisions.  Decisions that can benefit from broader community input can range from:

  • Deciding on which innovations to support based on need,
  • Evaluating the evidence  related to the effectiveness of the innovation, and
  • Assessing the quality of the data being collected (how reliable and valid are the data).

Function 3: Create Hospitable Environments

Formula For Success

An “enabling context” is part of implementation’s “formula of success”.  Implementation Teams actively create hospitable environments to ensure that an enabling context exists to support new ways of work. Any given Implementation Team has areas that are under their control; areas that they can improve to create a more hospitable environment (e.g. scheduling, resources, curriculum choices, professional development resource allocation).  Other areas are beyond their sphere of influence. Still, they need to be addressed.  This means the Implementation Team needs to systematically and transparently communicate with other teams who can positively influence the policy, regulatory, and funding environments at their level. 

How do Implementation Teams create a hospitable environment? Not only does the team collectively have the knowledge, skills and abilities — they have the authority and time to address barriers and to identify and refer issues they cannot resolve to teams who can. 

Learn More: Creating Hospitable Environments

 Video Vignette: What Research Says About Readiness

An interview with Melissa Van Dyke about creating readiness for change.


Activity 3.2
Engaging Community and Building Hospitable Environments

Reflect on your current organization.  How does your team engage the community?  How would you describe your system, organization or team environment?  Use one of two planning tools to assess your environment, and then consider plans for potential improvement.

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Topic 4: Establishing Implementation Teams

Establishing Implementation Teams and identifying members of a team does not necessarily mean hiring new professionals, or even adding a “new” team.  Begin by assessing existing teams and personnel.  Should an existing team be “repurposed” or redesigned for this work?  Might people be added to a current team as part of the repurposing?  What other factors are there to consider?  Let’s have a look.

How large should the team be?

We recommend a minimum of 3 to 5 individuals serve as core Implementation Team members. Other individuals may be invited to participate in Implementation Team activities from time to time based on their expertise.  However, these individuals may not have the same amount of time to participate in ongoing work (e.g., between meetings).   We recommend 3 to 5 members so the Implementation Team is sustainable.  As individuals leave, remaining members of the team can carry on while a new member is brought on and learns the complex sets of skills required of Implementation Team members.

What selection criteria should guide the creation of an Implementation Team? 

The Implementation Team needs to be comprised of individuals who, collectively, have the expertise necessary to implement the EBP/EII, and to develop and maintain the system and infrastructures to support effective implementation. One or more members of the core Implementation Team should have competency in at least one of the following areas.

There should be Implementation Team members who:

Activity 3.3
Create a Mock Implementation Team

You have decided to explore the potential of having an Implementation Team in your building, district, region or state.  Looking across your organization, is there an existing team that could be repurposed? Or, do you need to start fresh? Use this starter activity to facilitate your thinking/planning.

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Topic 5: Terms of Reference (ToR)

A Process for Creating Alignment, Structure and Transparency 

When Implementation Teams and other stakeholders are clear about their purpose, membership, processes and ways of work from the outset, they are better able to avoid misunderstandings and engage in more focused work.

To protect, engage and guide the work of Implementation Teams, early on it is helpful to create Terms of Reference (ToR). ToR ensure the Team has the necessary:


Activity 3.4
Terms of Reference Examples and Mock-Up

Implementation Teams use Terms of References (ToR) to provide clarity about the work of the team, help the team stay ‘on mission’ and orient new members.  Use this activity with your team to organize and articulate a ToR.

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Apply It Now

Implementation Team Functions in Education

To learn more about functions and membership across different Implementation Teams in education, see the 1-page descriptions below. Consider reviewing the description for the level you and your team support. Then, review a level above, and/or below.

Module 3 Summary

Key Takeaways

  1. Implementation Teams establish an aligned and linked teaming infrastructure that can help integrate, sustain, and scale-up innovations with fidelity over time.
  2. Implementation Teams support and sustain the widespread use of EBPs/EIIs by leveraging implementation science principles and using systems change best practices. Implementation Teams “Make it Happen”.
  3. Implementation Teams typically include 3 to 5 individuals with time allocated to engage in implementation infrastructure development.  This means face-to-face time as a team, as well as working between meetings.
  4. The primary functions of Implementation Teams are to:
    • Ensure Implementation
    • Engage the Community
    • Create Hospitable Environments
  5. Key teaming structures for an education system are:
    • Building Implementation Team (BIT)
    • District Implementation Team (DIT)
    • Regional Implementation Team (RIT)
    • State Implementation Team (SIT)

Capstone Activity 3.5
Creating an Implementation Team

This activity encourages you to identify potential Implementation Team members and responsibilities of team types, as well as consider team support strategies.

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Capstone Quiz




Congratulations, you finished Module 3: Implementation Teams!  We invite you to assess your learning via the Capstone Quiz.

Your virtual coach Asha guides you through a quick set of questions
[approximate time: 5-10 minutes].


The Active Implementation Hub, AI Modules and AI Lessons are an initiative of the State Implementation & Scaling-up of Evidence-based Practices Center (SISEP) and
the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) located at
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's FPG Child Development Institute.
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