Team Building

Team Building enables a group to work toward a goal

Great teamwork is the only way we can create the breakthroughs that define our careers.  — Pat Riley

When I was teaching middle school, I sometimes divided students into small groups and asked them to work together to accomplish a task. Wanting the teams to be equal, I put top students, average students and struggling students on each team. If these students had ever worked as teams before, you would never know it. In one group they looked at each other and nobody said anything. Finally, one of the top students took over and the others breathed a sigh of relief. This student made all the decisions and asked if the others agreed. Everyone always agreed. That was easier than expressing a different opinion.

In another group, another top student took over and arbitrarily divided up the work. She assigned each person a task. Instead of a larger group project, it became a number of individual projects. The leader would nag the others to get their work done and complain when it wasn’t done well.

In both cases, the leaders complained that no one else did their fair share of the work. It didn’t seem fair that the others got a grade based on all the work the leader did.

If you’re take a class where group projects are assigned, the very same things often happen. Because nobody else shows any interest in leading, one student will take over and either assign individual tasks or does most of it all by himself. Nobody in the group is happy about it, but they don’t want to complain and have to do more of the work. Have you been a part of groups that worked this way? Would you have know what to do differently?

How can we build a team that works together?

My students had all been in classes where cooperative learning methods were used, where students might each read a small section of the chapter and then take turns sharing what they read. But they were normally given clear, detailed instructions about how to proceed.

In your class or organization, when you are places on a team or committee and asked to do a task, no one is going to tell you how to work together. If you are lucky enough to work with an experienced team leader, observe what he or she does. Listen to what they say. How do they get people involved?

The person who accepts the responsibility of getting things going, of being a moderator, will probably do many of these things. Which of these you use will depend on the situation, on how well the individuals know each other and how often they have worked together as a group.

Six steps to organizing an effective team

1. If the people don’t know each other well, it is important to begin with introductions including names and some relevant information. The moderator might say “Let’s go around and say your names and one or two interests or skill you have that might be useful in this project.”

If you have more time, you might have people pair up and learn information about the other person and then introduce each other.

You might end up with getting someone in the group to name each of the others and tell the group something about them.

2. Take care of some details. Pass around a sheet of paper so each person can write down their name, phone number, email, and skills. Get a volunteer who will email everyone in the group so they have information to contact others. Get two more volunteers, one to write brainstorming ideas on the chalkboard or a large sheet of paper, and one to take notes at the table who will sum up the decision and other information. This can also be emailed to all in the group.

3. You might ask a few people to explain what your task is. Let’s assume that your group has decided to have a party as a fudraiser. Maybe one committee is working on finding a good place to hold the party. Another group is planning and taking care of the food. Others are planning the decor. Your team is in charge of advertising to get a large number of people to come.

Have the person at the chalkboard write down the goal and ask if anyone has suggestions on how to state it more clearly.

4. Brainstorm suggestions for ways to accomplish your task. Begin with several minutes for each person to write down 5-10 ideas. Then go around the circle with each person contributing one idea at a time, trying not to repeat ideas. Point out tha,t in brainstorming, all ideas, even crazy ones, are acceptable. It is important to accept and respect each other.

After going around a couple times, then open it up to the group to add additional suggestions. For this sort of task, I’d expect an article in the school paper, posters up all over campus, and information on a campus radio station or websilte. If you are working especially hard to get large numbers to buy tickets, you might set up table to sell tickets in the cafeteria, in the students union, and other places where students gather.

5. If your group is large, you should divide the group. While some tasks might be done by a single individual, it is prefereable for everyone to work with someone else. Everyone should be assigned to one of these groups including the moderator.

For example: A. More artistic students in the group that will prepare posters, possibly designing several for the whole group to consider.

B. The ones with writing skills or maybe someone on the newspaper staff, could write the article. They might also contact the radio station and find out about getting the same information on the campus website.

C. Another group might arrange to get tickets printed and get permission to set up tables to sell tickets, using everyone in the group to help sell.

6. Look at a calendar. How much time do you have to finish the task? How many times should the entire group get together? When is it convenient for everyone to get together? Where will you meet? And for how long? Make it clear that, if anyone runs into a problem, they should let the moderator know as soon as possible.

Of course, there is only so much you can do until you get information from the other groups. You will need to know where the dance will be before moving forward on creating posters, writing articles printing and then selling tickets. And if the decor and food groups are developing any kind of theme, that might also be helpful. So further meetings may need to be set after these other groups make theirinitial  decisions.

7. From this point on, the moderator and other team members need to support and encourge each other. Finally, at your last meeting, you might have each group report back on what they actually accomplished. And it’s always nice to end with a celebration, perhaps going out as a group to get pizza.

 What about a class project?

Class projects can be of many kinds but should follow a similar pattern.

1. Get to know each other first. Know the interests and skills of each person.

2. Gather contact information.

3. Get a vounteer to email info to members and volunteer to take notes.

4. Discuss the assignment and make sure it is clear to everyone. If there are questions, you need someone to check with the professor.

5. If you are to choose a topic to work on, Brainstorm a long list of suggestions. Look for ways to combine several ideas. Narrow the topics down to five or ten and discuss reasons for and against each. Try to agree on a topic without needing to take a vote. Voting means that some didn’t like the idea.

6. Work as a group to divide the project into several tasks or steps. If you need to write a report, you need to do research, write an outline, write the paper, revise, and proofread. I’d suggest that everyone join in the research. You might look up separate but related topics. You might look through the list of sources and divide them up. By the next meeting each person should have completed their share of the research. They you should wjork together to create the outline. You can either have each person write one section of the report or work in pairs, one to write and one to revise and proofread. It is important not to depend on a single person for a task. If they get sick or are not responsible, that task might not get done. If you need to have a single person task, they might stay in touch with the group leader to say how they are doing it and what they have done so far at various points.

You will probably also need to make a presentation in class. You may have two or three people wilth speaking parts. Others might prepare chart or visuals such as a video or power point presentation. ILt is a good idea to have at least two people prepared for each part of the presentation. The professor may or may not be understanding if one member gets sick or has been in an accident and cannot be there.

You should also decide if the group wants to stick with one or several leaders or moderators.  One might be in charge of the research, one in charge of the writing, and one in charge of the presentation. You might find other ways to divide up the responsibilities. This allows more students to have experience leading a goup and they are more likely to take responsibility for encouraging the group to do a good job.

7. Back to your meeting: Plan a timeline for accomplishing each task. Plan when and where to meet.

8. Practice your presentation at least once.

9. After the presentation, you might want to get together and celebrate.

Further links:

Interpersonal Problem-Solving    Leadership   conflict resolution for students

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