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There’s No “I” in Team

October 25, 2010

The importance of teamwork in the newsroom and for public relations professionals is not a new concept. More and more, our ever-changing field requires effectively working in groups to excel. “Must be able to work in teams” is a common job requirement.

To help students learn how to work with others and build relationships, I have them work in teams in several of the classes I teach. When students first find out that they will be working with teams, I inevitably hear sighs and groans, but by the end of the semester, most students have changed their opinion.

Introducing Teamwork to Students

As I introduce teamwork to my classes, I ask students to think of a job that would not require them to work with others. This quickly illustrates how collaboration will be a integral part of their careers. Next, I try to help students see the benefits of working together by asking them to think of reasons why having teammates for a project could be helpful. Usually students will come up with answers on their own:

  • sharing the workload,
  • learning from each other,
  • networking with people who could someday be in a position to hire them,
  • having a support system and a built-in sanity check.

Being a Good Teammate

Once we’ve established that working in teams may not be the worst thing ever, then we discuss what we can do to be good team members. Tips provided by Becky Green, a colleague at Midwestern State University, provide a guide for this discussion.

Selecting Team Roles

I introduce the concept of team roles: captain, time angel, optimist, recorder, and skeptic. Using a guide provided by LaRae Donnellan, I explain the responsibilities of each of the roles and ask students what traits they think would be helpful to support the team well in each of the roles. This usually leads to a lively discussion.

Forming Teams

Next it is time to form teams. There are many ways to do this; counting off and basing teams on last names are two methods. On of my favorites, a tip from Donnie Kirk, is to have students grab a candy bar out of a bag (sight unseen). Then students find others with the same candy bar to form their teams. Who wouldn’t like an activity that involves chocolate? Another method, developed by LaRae Donnellan and Bonnie Reichert, uses results form a personality style inventory to assign students to teams (for more info, see their book chapter “Building Team Skills: Using Personality Types and Cognitive Styles”).

Building a Team Identity

Once students are in their teams, they begin building a team identity immediately by choosing roles, selecting a team name, and identifying team values, or guidelines for how they want to interact with one another. I take pictures of each team and put the photo on each team’s class wiki page. Creating a team page with the team name and photo is the only time that I work with the team wiki page – for the rest of the course, the page is under the team’s control to use as they wish. I sometimes give an assignment or two to help them become familiar with using the wiki (such as updating the page with the team values), but the rest of the use of the wiki (or not) is totally under control of the students.

Addressing Challenges

The teamwork process is not without its challenges, and it is these challenges that cause some students’ initial trepidation. Students worry about teammates not pulling their weight, but I’ve also seen the opposite happen too. One semester team members scheduled planning meetings and work sessions without including one of their teammates. These types of issues are not common but when they do happen they require instructor involvement.

Initial set-up decisions that affect how students will work together include the following:

  • How will grades be assigned? As a group, individually, or both?
  • Will students have the option to complete a project on their own if they would prefer to do all of the work instead of working with a team?
  • Can a team member be “fired” from a team? If yes, what are the criteria/circumstances under which this can happen? What options does the “fired” team member have at this point? Can he or she interview with another team?

Reviewing Student Feedback

Team activities vary depending on the particular course, but at the end of the semester, students provide feedback to their teammates using a form I modified from one Jim Gorham uses. Not surprisingly, students seem to value this feedback. Most student comments on end-of-course evaluations are positive and have included the following:

  • “Students learn a lot from each other.”
  • “Teamwork helps individuals to have support & gives them more confidence.”
  • “It provides a support group which you can rely on and learn from.”
  • “It allows students to hear other ideas from other students and be more diverse.”
  • “It gives students a sense of unity.”
  • “Teamwork was a very instrumental part in the success of the class as a whole. It was a great way to get feedback.”
  • “It gives you a chance to get to know people and solve a problem better.”

Identifying Other Benefits

What are some of the other benefits of students working in teams? Here are a few I’ve noted.

  • Students remember more of what they learn when they have discussions and teach others. Working in teams structures the opportunity to do both.
  • Some students will put more effort into a project when they know their teammates are counting on them.  As a result they learn more and produce higher quality work.
  • Students are better prepared for the workplace.
  • I have on occasion included teammate feedback for a particular student in a letter of recommendation for that student.

I’d love to hear about your experience with students and teams. What works for you?

Mitzi Lewis, Midwestern State University

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Margo Wilson permalink
    October 30, 2010 4:24 pm

    Thank you, Mitzi, for these insights and helpful links! What a great and basic idea — the duh that I’ve never thought of this before — to have students discuss any jobs that would not have them work with others. Thanks for the team evaluation form. I feel this blog could be so useful to those of us for whom journalism teaching is our bread and butter. Thanks again for your thoughts and hard work!

  2. November 27, 2010 8:58 pm

    Mitzi – what a great post. You really laid out the whole group process so well. Thanks!

    The feedback form that I use at the end of each project allows students to put percentages on the amount of work that each student contributed to every part of the project.

    Click to access peerassessmentsheet.pdf

    It lays out who did the real work, and students are really quite honest about their efforts (or lack of efforts). Almost always, the percentages students report come out fairly consistent from each group member.


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