Helping Student Teams Perform Well: A Framework for Using teamwork.umn.edu

27 May

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.

Resources – Incorporated in Post as Hyperlinked URLs

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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