Tag Archives: team project

Helping Student Teams Perform Well

5 Jan

I.  Using teamwork.umn.edu

Teamwork.umn.edu was created in response to faculty requests for a resource to help their students develop teamwork skills – including project management, interpersonal communication and problem solving processes – to support high level learning via teamwork projects.  We used two sources of data in the design of this site:

  • scholarly literature on effective teamwork practices, and
  • extensive interviews, focus groups, and usability testing with U of M undergraduate students about their experiences with teamwork projects.

We have summarized our findings below as a collection of six recommendations to help make your student teamwork projects a success.

1. Provide students with principle teamwork skills.

Our discussions with undergraduates and reading of the teamwork literature informed us that we shouldn’t assume all students possess the necessary skills needed for effective work in teams.  This is especially true for first year students and other students new to (and therefore unfamiliar with) the range of communication skills, including setting out and resolving conflicts, central to teamwork.  To support this aspect of student learning, address the following two points as part of teamwork preparation:

  • Expect conflict as a normal part of teamwork and understand that it can lead to a better final product.  Rather than avoid conflict, be prepared for it by knowing about teamwork developmental stages and come up with strategies to handle conflict before it happens.
  • Make all decisions as a team, collecting input from every single team member.  Do this in face-to-face meetings.  As an instructor you can facilitate this by providing dedicated class time for team interaction.

(See “Team Success and Patterns of Communication” for more ideas on this point.)

2. Have students assign roles and devise a policy statement.

  • Encourage students to divide up leadership between team members.  Using a strengths-based approach is one way to do this, but you can suggest other approaches based on the nature of your teamwork project.
  •  Require students to develop a team policy statement or team charter that will outline HOW the team will work together.  Use the Policies Agreement Guide [attached] to help structure this meeting.  To ensure your students actually do this, require them to turn in their final policy statement, signed by all team members, for points.  Students were blunt in our interviews: most would not do these steps unless they were required by their instructor.

3. Instruct students to create a master task list and a project plan

  • As soon as students receive their assignment, encourage them to create a list of all of the tasks needed to complete the project.  For a model of a team brainstorming a project task list, show the video “The Team Brainstorms a Project List” in class.
  • Once students have created their task list, have them use that to develop a project plan.  The project plan, as a minimum, should include who is responsible for what tasks and when the tasks are to be completed.  Using backward planning will help students ensure their project is completed on time.  For a model of a team creating a project plan show the video “The Team Comes Up With A Project Plan.”

4. Have students complete an informal team assessment in class.

Midway through the project have students do an informal assessment of their team to determine if they’re on track.  Provide them with the Quick Team Assessment to do this.  Instruct them to make adjustments as necessary to improve team functioning.  Tell them about an instance where you have worked as part of a team and had to make adjustments in your process in order to work more effectively together.

5. Incorporate peer assessment as a component of the project grade.

Literature on evaluating teamwork projects recommends that students have some say in their teammates’ final project grade.  This helps hold all team members accountable for their performance.  Peer assessment is a way to do this.  See the article “Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams” for examples of peer review documents and suggestions for how to use them.

6. Include formative peer review as part of the assessment plan.

To prevent unfortunate surprises at the end of the semester, have students do a formative peer assessment before the final peer assessment is due that won’t count towards the final grade.  This allows students to make changes to their behavior before the final team evaluation by their peers.

As always, you’re invited to contact the CTL Consultation coordinator – http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/consultations/index.html – to talk about the design and implementation of your specific teamwork project, or if you would like us to customize a teamwork workshop for instructors in your unit.

II. Supporting Student Teams in Managing Conflicts

To prevent team problems you can ask your students to assign roles, create a team process statement (see “Helping Student Teams Perform Well” http://wp.me/p1Mdiu-XK) and provide them with instruction based on a framework for developing agile teamwork skills (see “Revisiting Team-Based Learning Frameworks” http://wp.me/p1Mdiu-11C).

Whatever the preparatory work, well-prepared teams can – and generally do – run into interpersonal problems. Here I’ll focus on a selection of problems that tend to arise within student teams and outline five different actions you might take as part of helping student teams facilitate their own success.

Engage students in gathering observational data

A good place to start is to ask students to gather information on how their team is functioning. They can do this by performing a quick team assessment. For the assessment, ask each team member to rate the team on different desirable team behaviors using a template. (See the “Quick Team Assessment” template below, for example). You might also create your own assessment questions, or supplement this one, based on the important requirements of your specific team project.

Once individuals in a team have completed their assessments, move them into comparing answers and discussing areas of disagreement, as well as low ratings, and high ratings. The act of having a shared conversation about team functioning may surface what some team members may have been hesitant to bring up.

Drawing on a template, one possible structure for the team discussion would be having each team member propose one thing the team should continue doing, one thing the team should start doing and one thing the team should stop doing. To demonstrate that you take this process seriously, set aside class time to have teams work on it.  

Model approaches to teamwork challenges

Often in teaching a course by ourselves, we don’t model our appreciation of teamwork. One way to make your value of teamwork explicit is to share a story of a teamwork project challenge you have encountered as part of your professional work. Describe the conflict, including any negative emotions you might have felt and addressed, to create a shared experience with the students. Most important will be taking time to describe how your team successfully solved the problem, and the impacts of that intervention. Many people describe conflict and resolution as pivotal for success. Communicating that you have experienced similar moments of tension and resolution may help students view conflict as a step towards success rather than an indication of dysfunction.

Provide examples of past teams resolving conflict

Teams face a number of common problems when working on a high-stakes project. For example, one person may not be completing agreed upon work, one person may be dominating the process rather than taking part in a collaborative leadership plan, some team members may be nursing interpersonal hurts or judgments, or one team member may have withdrawn from participation. Describe these problems to your students and provide examples of how other students have solved similar problems successfully in the past. Resources you might use are the conflict solving videos at http://teamwork.umn.edu/problems.

Facilitate conflict resolving processes

Tell students you will meet with their team if they have problems, but indicate that you want them to try to solve the problem as a team first before meeting with you. In addition to written course policies about teamwork, speaking aloud about your openness to, and responsibility for, helping solve problems reinforces that you care about their team success. If you do meet with students, act as a facilitator rather than a problem-solver, focusing on strategies that engage them in coming up with solutions to the problem. To help students develop important teamwork problem-solving strategies they can use in the future, act as an advisor to a team that experiencing problems – whether these are situations that you observe, or that one team member or another team reports.

Provide time & practice for solving problems

Present a “case study” of a team problem to the whole class and have them brainstorm ways to solve the problem. The case study could be an actual problem student teams are experiencing or one from a previous semester or experience. Have students identify and clarify critical elements of the case, review contributing behaviors and situations, then identify one or two possible solutions to the problem. Finally, collect responses from a few teams to evaluate in a whole class discussion. (See “Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Behavior” below.”)

Setting aside valuable class time to do this communicates that you want teams to succeed and that you believe they are capable of solving these problems together.

You may want to try one or more of these activities to help your student teams get back on track. You may also want to remind students that teamwork can be messy, but confronting problems directly together, is a step towards creating a high functioning team.


Blog Post: Team Success and Patterns of Communication: http://wp.me/p1Mdiu-HE

Video: “The Team Brainstorms a Project List”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZzipZqN2nw

Video: The Team Comes Up With A Project Plan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACJJgXJyMI4

Sample Quick Team Assessment document: http://teamwork.umn.edu/forms

Article: “Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams”: http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/Oakley-paper%28JSCL%29.pdf




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