Feb 07
How Does a Group Become a Team?

As a student, I wasn't necessarily keen to work in a group with my peers, especially when the group was assigned by the teacher. It was always a risky undertaking and often an uncomfortable experience, if ​​my group mates' work style and work ethic did not match my own.  groups and teams (2).jpg

As an instructor, I certainly assign group work, but I do so with open eyes and a clear understanding of just how fraught the experience can be. Sure, my instructions are clear. The rubric is explicit. But still: It's not always successful, enjoyable or productive for the students.

I want to do group work in my classes better, so I'm here today crowdsourcing your answers to these three questions:

  • What are the building blocks for successful group work in your courses?
  • Do you actively teach group work dynamics, roles, responsibilities, etc.?
  • How do you encourage groups to become teams?  

I'm eager to hear from you, so please sign in above and then join the conversation below. Thanks! 

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash


I ponder this question too ...

I also ponder this question and through experimentation have found that there is no one right approach, but I have made a few observations. Explicitly teaching students about group work dynamics is a great idea, but sometimes students need support to carry this out. For this reason, I sometimes set aside enough class time for students to do their group work so that I can spend time with each group to coach and monitor them. I talk to them regularly about their dynamics and monitor their progress. At the end of the process, I have them reflect on their group dynamics. If we do this regularly early in the students' programs, they might later be equally effective with more autonomy.

I have tried allowing students to choose their own groups, I've assigned them randomly, and I've crafted the groups - there are pros and cons to each approach and no one right way, in my experience. It depends on what you want to achieve - if you want your students to gain experience working with people who are different than themselves, assign groups!
Picture Placeholder: Gail Horvath
  • Gail Horvath
 on 2/7/2020 9:34 AM

We actually teach team work...

We actually teach team work skills in our "Foundations for Success" course (IBIT program). We also do a bit of instruction on this topic in our Professional Development courses in ACE.  The important component of a team is something called "Psychological Safety" and that can be broken down into 2 sub-components - the equal turn taking in conversation (everyone speaks in relatively the same proportions) and the ability to read each other - empathy.  Those are the most important factors. Others are dependability, clarity and structure, meaning and impact. A group is just a bunch of folks in the same place at the same time.
Picture Placeholder: Katharine Langille
  • Katharine Langille
 on 2/7/2020 9:39 AM

I've been out of the classr...

I've been out of the classroom for a while, but is Microsoft Teams or WebEx teams available to our students? Showing them these tools and how modern workplaces use them, might give them the social media-type, modern boost they need to help foster communication. (There's also Slack, Trello, or WhatsApp.) Having experience using a team app will also be something that students can add to their resumes (you might get buy in and more participation if you sell those skills)!
Picture Placeholder: Sherry L Seymour
  • Sherry L Seymour
 on 2/7/2020 10:25 AM

I did some research on this...

I did some research on this in my masters program.  There are some key elements to effective teamwork.  First, the project must be the right size for the group.  Assigning a one page letter to five students is a recipe for social loafing and students recognize the "marking shortcut" that it is.  We presume students know how to effectively work in teams; yet as professionals, we sometimes struggle to work effectively in teams.  Students must be taught to set boundaries, assign responsibilities, and determine conflict resolution processes.  This has to be a function of the group work assignment. 
Picture Placeholder: Teresa L. Menzies
  • Teresa L. Menzies
 on 2/7/2020 10:38 AM

I have wondered about this,...

I have wondered about this, too. I have tried assigning groups, letting students pick the groups, and using a random team generator.

One of my colleagues, who was recently a long-time manager in industry, said her approach in the workplace was to group all the strong workers together and all the less-strong workers together. She found this caused the strong workers to excel because they fed off of each other's ideas/energy. She also found it to be beneficial for less-strong workers because it forced them to step up and take control and often thrive.

She has taken this approach at school in a term-long group project and it seems to be working. I am wondering if it would work in a single class with group work or not. I feel like the group would need to be operative for a longer duration for it to work.
Picture Placeholder: Roberta J Anderson
  • Roberta J Anderson
 on 2/7/2020 10:56 AM

It sounds like many people ...

It sounds like many people struggle with assigning group work--and I would include myself among them. However, I think we focus on that aspect a little too much, because, as many have pointed out, there are pros and cons with every method. I agree wholeheartedly with Teresa's comment on the scope of work involved playing an important role in group dynamics. I routinely pared down team numbers after trying assignments out, as I found that smaller groups were generally more effective than larger groups. I also found that students understood the reasons for group work if I was really explicit about why I was assigning group projects, and my marking load was not a good reason. However, relating school to industry work, assessing their ability to work in a team environment, and large projects that are not reasonably accomplished by 1 person were all reasons students could understand and accept for why group work was necessary.
Picture Placeholder: Jayne M Geisel
  • Jayne M Geisel
 on 2/7/2020 2:02 PM

I agree with Katharine's co...

I agree with Katharine's comment about psychological safety. Without it, there is no team. The NY Times and Google do as well: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html  

Map It!
Feedback from a mapped discussion helps shift the focus from the individuals in the group to the group itself. Mapping a discussion can frame the maintenance and health of a group as a collective goal. Instead of saying you're talking too much or not enough, we can make the benefits of inclusion the main goal. Alexis Wiggins' book "The Best Class You Never Taught" on this is great. Mapping the discussion or throwing yarn can illustrate and bring this complex process to life.

That said. As we all know, it is not easy and it can take a long time to develop one's confidence to collaborate. As Katharine mentioned, it involves self-awareness and active listening.

Thank you for starting this conversation, Faculty Friday! The more we collaborate as a college, the more we can teach and model collaboration to our students.      
Picture Placeholder: Kevin Boon
  • Kevin Boon
 on 2/7/2020 2:26 PM