Teaching Teamwork: A Framework for Success

Professors and students alike often approach group projects with dread and apprehension. Problems of free riders, difficulty scheduling, and lack of clear expectations can hinder the progress students make when working in teams. Follow these four tips to help teach effective teamwork in the classroom, and make sure group projects go off without a hitch.

Create Teams Intelligently

When it comes time for group work, professors can set students up for success through smart team formation. Teams should be able to meet in person and share similar values regarding the importance of the class and commitment levels. An online tool that may be helpful for this purpose is the free online program CATME Team Maker, where students enter information about their schedule, commitment level, and leadership styles. The program then randomly creates and ranks 20 sets of teams, from which a professor can then select depending on his or her preferences and knowledge of students.

Define Characteristics of Effective Teams

Authors disagree about the exact characteristics of effective teams, but the professor should identify what an effective team should look like for the purpose of the course. Some common characteristics of groups include having a clear goal, unified commitment, collaborative climate, high standards, and principled leadership. After the professor has decided what the characteristics of an effective team are, he or she should distribute to the class and make the expectations for teamwork clear.

Teach Teamwork Skills

Important teamwork skills include communication, leadership, conflict management, and decision making. Professors can help foster teamwork in their classroom through explicitly teaching what these skills look like in practice through mini-lectures and practice exercises on topics such as constructive criticism and active listening. Teaching teamwork skills can help students remember to practice them when the rubber meets the road.

Give time for frequent assessment and reflection

Finally, professors should assign group projects to allow students to practice their teamwork skills. When thinking about the structure of group projects, professors should make sure students reflect on their progress and performance through methods like scheduled check-ins or a self-evaluation rubric. Mandated reflection can help students improve their teamwork skills, and remind them of the importance of teamwork, a priority which can often get left behind in the shuffle of assignments and deadlines.