Many instructors incorporate teamwork
into their courses to teach skills that are critical for academic and business
success. Yet many students and faculty also dread the inevitable problems that
doing groupwork—face-to-face or online—creates. It can be difficult to ensure
equal participation by all team members, manage interpersonal conflicts, plan
and coordinate activities, identify roles and responsibilities, and agree on
group processes (e.g., leadership issues, or how decisions will be made).
Consequently, instructors spend valuable time “intervening” in an attempt to
solve team problems.
The problem is that faculty often do
not scaffold teamwork properly to ensure success. They put students into teams with
instructions as to what must be the final product, but provide little or no
guidance on how to get there. Instead of teaching teamwork skills, students
become frustrated with problems in coordinating their efforts.
A colleague and I developed and taught a course focusing specifically on teamwork skills. Other professors realized that students who had our class performed better on team assignments, and asked us for techniques they could use in their classes to improve team performance. In response we codified our best practices into the Team+ System (http://www.teamplus.education), a web-based program that will facilitate student teamwork in any class, regardless of course content or format (online or face-to-face). The Team+ System is not a commercial product. It is free to any instructor in any higher educational setting. Instructors and students may be asked to provide feedback at the end of the semester, and any data collected may be used for further research and development.
How the Team+
While there are many features of the Team+ System, the majority of the
learning and developmental experiences comes from eight structured activities
completed by each team. These activities are grouped into four stages. All
information and resources necessary for students to complete these activities
are provided on the Team+ website.
Additionally, students begin each activity by viewing a tutorial video that
explains why the activity is important and how to complete it. The eight
activities are completed in order, and most of the activities have a “window”
of availability based on the schedule created at the beginning of the semester.
We recommend successful completion of the activities be tied to your course
Stage 1: Who We Are: Individual and Team Identity
- Activity # 1: Personal Profile
Teammates share photos and interesting biographical information; posted on a rotating carrousel at the top of the team’s web page, this information helps teammates get to know one another
- Activity # 2: Individual / Team Styles
Members complete self-assessments that reveal communication, listening, and conflict management styles; feedback includes tips on how to work with others who have varying styles, which prepares them for working with the specific members of their unique group.
- Activity # 3: Team Identity
Teammates agree on a team name, motto, and mascot so each team has a unique identity, promoting team cohesion
Stage 2: How We Work: Operational Effectiveness
- Activity # 4: Operational Rules
- How to communicate with one another outside of face-to-face team meetings (e.g., email, text messages, phone conferences, etc.)
- How often members agree to check for messages or contact team members
- The best type of team meeting (face-to-face or virtual) and how often the team will meet
- To adopt a set of basic ground rules that will guide their interactions during the semester
- Activity # 5: Individual Roles
Members accept responsibility for specific tasks that will promote more efficient interactions and successful task completion; possible tasks include:
- Send reminders for upcoming meetings
- Develop and distribute meeting agendas
- Create a calendar of internal team deadlines for task deliverables
- Review/edit documents prior to final submission
- Remind teammates of their project responsibilities and assignment deadlines
Stage 3: What’s Working, What’s Not: Process Improvement
- Activity # 6: The Keep, Start, Stop Exercise
Teammates work together to identify:
- Specific behaviors/processes that are helping the team (Keep)
- Specific behaviors/processes that could help the team (Start)
- Specific behaviors/processes that are hindering the team (Stop)
Stage 4: How We’re Doing: Performance Evaluation and Accountability
At both mid- and end- semester, self and peer ratings are completed for five “teamwork” factors:
- Acting Responsibly to the Team
- Creating a Positive Team Climate
- Making a Collaborative Effort
- Managing Conflict Inclusively and Constructively
- Monitoring Individual and Team Performance
For each factor, the student is presented with sample behaviors that reflect “Ineffective Behaviors,” “Acceptable Behaviors,” and “Most Effective Behaviors.” Students indicate what type of behaviors were displayed most often during the semester. Each student receives an individualized feedback report that compares self-ratings to the average peer rating.
- Activity # 7: Mid-Semester Self/Peer Evaluations and Developmental Feedback
We recommend the mid-semester result be used for developmental purposes, allowing the team members to make positive changes over the last half of the semester
- Activity # 8: End-Semester Self/Peer Performance Evaluations and Feedback
Using the same rating process as before, these results should be tied to the student’s course grade
Other features of the Team+ System
Instructor’s App: An instructor
can easily keep track of the participation of individual students and the
performance of student teams (all data, including self and peer performance
evaluations, can be downloaded for further analyses).
- Teamwork Skills Video Library: The Team+
System includes numerous “self-help” videos that address issues often found
in student teams. These brief videos provide specific recommendations (what to
say, what to do) that students / teams can apply immediately to improve
relationships and overall team performance.
- Team Collaboration Tools: Team members can easily share documents,
post comments, chat, schedule meetings, receive notifications (messages,
upcoming deadlines, etc.), and keep a calendar.
Feedback and comments from users
We have received some very positive
comments from users of the Team+ System,
from both instructors and students. For example, one instructor writes:
"Team+ has been a lifesaver for
managing my class teams. Through the team builder activities, I'm able to
encourage my student teams to be proactive in establishing the groundwork for
team success so that fewer team issues arise. When team issues do arise, I have
valuable resources to draw from within the team+ platform as well as data to
support any interventions that I must take.
I am thankful for the platform because it helps me to efficiently manage
teamwork (particularly in my large classes).”
Student responses include:
“Team+ was a great system and
delegated tasks perfectly; it is incredibly organized and easy to use.”
“It is a user-friendly system that
encourages students, makes students interact with one another and accountable
for their participation.”
We offer an Instructor’s Guide to help support the implementation of the Team+ System and create a more positive
experience for students. We also offer a “demo” version to allow instructors to
view the complete system from both the instructor and student perspective. Use
the system in your classes to improve teamwork and learning outcomes.
Jay R. Tombaugh and Clifton O. Mayfield are
associate professors of management in the College of Business at the University
of Houston—Clear Lake.