Teach teamwork skills and promote positive group dynamics

Many students lack the skills needed for successful teamwork; this is often why students have negative experiences when working on a team project. Providing some support in this area will result in better functioning teams and a better final team product. Below are some tasks that can help your students work together more effectively.

  • Assign roles. Assigning roles allows students to distribute team leadership among members. There are a variety of roles your students could take on, depending on your project.  Roles could include facilitator, team-builder, record-keeper, reporter, divergent-thinker. The student companion site to this site, Surviving Group Projects, provides examples and explanations of these roles. Having team members rotate in the roles allows them to experience different kinds of team leadership.
  • Create a team process document.  Students assigned to a team often want to dive in immediately and begin working on the assignment. It is worth spending some time, however, on talking about how the team will work together. Some instructors ask teams to complete a team process document that represents the group consensus on matters related to the project: being prepared for meetings, doing work in a timely manner, and making decisions. It is desirable to have student teams work on this early in the term, before they run into conflict. If they do run into conflict, they can refer back to this document.
  • Anticipate stages in team development. Research by Tuckman (2010) and others recognize that teams develop through five predictable stages: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.  This brief video describes these stages.   Share with students what to expect and provide them with tools to move into the more productive stages of team development
  • Assess team function. The team should periodically spend a few moments assessing how they are working together. Surveys or inventories are a good way to gather students’ opinion on team functioning. It could be as simple as: What is one thing our team is doing well? What is one thing our team could improve? The Surviving Group Projects site has a form you can refer students to. This should be followed up by a team discussion.
  • Prevent and manage team conflicts. Following all of the steps above will help student teams prevent unproductive conflict. However, conflict can still arise and when it does, inform students how you would like them to handle it. For instance, would you be willing to meet with a dysfunctional team to help them sort out their problems? Will you allow teams to “fire” a team member under certain conditions, for example, if the student does not attend team meetings or respond to team communications? Students from different cultural backgrounds will likely have different attitudes toward conflict.  Helping students understand their default approaches to handling conflicts prior to experiencing conflict can make the resolution process easier.

How to do it:

  • Provide a brief presentation to your students about teamwork skills they will need to complete their assigned project - Alternatively you could create a handout, assign reading, or direct them to teamwork.umn.edu.
  • Make discussing group process an assignment.  For instance, you can require students to complete a team process statement and turn it in for points.
  • Have students reflect regularly on their team and individual development.  This could be done via a journal or a short in-class writing assignment.
  • Share your own experiences working as part of a team. Tell them about a time your team ran into problems and how you handled it. Because we often teach alone, we don’t have many opportunities as instructors to model professional teamwork.