Skip to content Skip to navigation

Tips and Strategies for Effective Teamwork

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 

If the teams are structured properly, most students end the semester liking them. Many report having made new friends. That is certainly not their feelings at the beginning of class when they find out they will be working in teams all semester long.



The posting below gives some nice tips on structuring student teams.  It is by  Heath E. Harding and Courtney Quinn, graduate teaching assistants in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication and is from the August 2010 issue of the online publication  Graduate Connections Newsletter [] , pp 8-9, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is published by the Office of Graduate Studies. ©2010 Graduate Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Why Are Students So Passive and What Can Teachers Do to Effectively Engage Them in the Learning Process?


Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

------------------------------------------------ 914 words ------------------------------------------------

Tips and Strategies for Effective Teamwork


If the teams are structured properly, most students end the semester liking them. Many report having made new friends. That is certainly not their feelings at the beginning of class when they find out they will be working in teams all semester long.

Here are some tips and strategies that we use to make teamwork - well - work! They are based on our research, our observations and student comments.

Same Teams for the Semester

Keeping teams together accomplishes a couple of things. Students get to know each other and this relationship results in better quality projects. Not to mention they are more likely to do their share of the project if they know the people they are working with. The better you know someone, the better you can work together. Work quality typically goes up as the semester progresses. If students move between groups or only do one project together, they often engage in, or put up with, poor behavior because they know it is only for a short time.

Team Decisions

Design projects should require a team decision before they divide up the work. Too often, projects are assigned so that the only team decision is who's doing which part. This structure only teaches them to divide and conquer, not how to make team decisions, which they will need later in life.

Example: What is the most important/appropriate/ best use of... This requires them to process through the other options before making their choice.

Same Project

Every team should do the same project. When teams all do the same project they can evaluate the work of other teams. This makes the teams accountable to others in the class. Plus, teams can debate decisions when they arrive at different solutions. Teams will have to be able to present their solution and their reasoning.

Developmental Peer Evaluations

Give students multiple opportunities, typically after team projects, to review their teammates' contributions. An easy way to do this is to ask them to assign a percentage score (55%, 93%, etc.) to each team member and justify the score: what they contributed and how they can improve their teamwork. The first two reviews are developmental; they don't count as an official score. The evaluations help students develop new behavior before the final evaluation at the end of the semester, which does contribute to their grade.

Conversation Maps

These are great tools to help keep individual students accountable to the team learning. They come in a variety of formats. They typically have three sections. 1) a section for individual work that can be required prior to coming to class; 2) a section for students to record their peers' perspectives and thoughts; and 3) a section for a team decision. Any or all of these sections can be turned in and graded.

Teamwork Skills

Help the teams work better together. Most of our students got to college working alone. They don't come preloaded with teamwork skills. And if they do, it is probably because they have figured it out on their own. Sink or swim is a risky strategy at best, and a poor one if we are committed to preparing students to succeed after they graduate. Plus, it makes our graduates incredibly more employable if they are experts both in their field as well as in teamwork.

Help students get to know each other. They know they should, but often don't do it. Help them learn more than their favorite ice cream flavor. Have them share their strengths and weaknesses. It can also be helpful to have students share their expectations of team behavior or grade for the course. Examples: If you are going to meet at 2ish for a team project, what is the expected range? I work best when... I am anxious about working in a team because... Share the best experience working in a team and why.

Shared expectations. Help students get on the same page before they get down to business. Concept maps are an easy way to help students get on the same page visually. Have the teams submit a concept map of their project. It also helps them plan ahead and you get to see if they are in the ballpark for your expectations.

Harness difference. Multiple perspectives typically result in better products and solutions. This diversity of opinion can also create conflict. Help students understand that diverse perspectives can lead to a better grade. Give them tools to negotiate conflict. A good place to start is to help them identify conflicts with ideas and conflict with people.

Trust. Trust is critical to effective teamwork. Usually high achieving students don't trust that others will do the work it takes to get an A. Slackers trust that the high achievers will pick up the slack to keep from getting a poor grade. Trust is created from a combination of getting to know someone and follow-through. One strategy to build trust is to help students with follow-through. Give students a contract matrix that has a column for name, task, check-in date and completion date. This provides the team structure and a concrete artifact for their peer evaluations. Also ask teams to turn in a self-review of their teamwork. Make their teamwork as transparent as possible to all involved. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Teaming is not effective for every situation. If you do decide to use teams in your course, we hope these ideas can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.


Michaelsen, L., Knight, A.B., & Fink, D. (2004). Team-based learning: A transformative use of small group in college teaching. Stylus: Sterling VA.

Novak, J. D. & A. J. Cañas. The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct and use them. Technical Report IHMC: CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2008, available at: nderlyingConceptMaps.pdf

Team-Based Learning: