Getting Student Engineering Teams Off to a Good Start
 

Definition
A team is a small group of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.[1] Although student teams may not satisfy all the requirements of the definition, the degree to which they do often determines their effectiveness.

Getting Teams Off to a Good Start
Once teams have been formed, instructors need to provide the foundation for success. “Students do not come to school with the social skills they need to collaborate effectively with others. So teachers need to teach the appropriate communication, leadership, trust, decision making, and conflict management skills to students and provide the motivation to use these skills in order for groups to function effectively.”[2] Faculty must take responsibility to help students develop their skills to participate in and lead teams. Investing time and effort in helping teams establish goals, expectations for behavior, and trust will pay off with more productive teams and fewer team problems. Although an instructor can do many things to help the teams get off to a good start, the following six are especially important.

  • Get acquainted: Taking time to learn about your teammates is a good investment.
  • Motivate groups to build teams: Establishing and maintaining a high-performance team takes work. One way to help students invest the energy and time it will take to form and sustain an effective team is to help them better understand the importance of social, interpersonal, and team skills for their career and lifelong goals.
  • Establish a set of group goals: Strategic learners need to be able to set and use meaningful goals to help them learn and to help them generate and maintain their motivation for studying.[3]
  • Construct a code of cooperation: Every team member has expectations about how the other members will perform. Helping each team articulate individual expectations and reach consensus on a set of common behavioral expectations yields positive results.
  • Organize: Conducting productive meetings and organizing group tasks are skills that are learned, not innate. Further, certain tasks must be performed for a team to function effectively. Assigning roles to specific individuals can help the team operate more smoothly.
  • Potential problem members: Reflection on potential difficulties and how they might be addressed can avoid problems later. Once the team has been started, instructors can provide additional team training that will be described in other documents in this series.

References for Further Information

  1. Katzenbach, J.R., and Smith, D.K., 1992. Wisdom of Teams: Boston (Harvard Business School Press).
  2. Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., and Holubec, Edythe Johnson, 1986. Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom (rev. ed.): Edina, MN (Interaction Book Co.),
  3. McKeachie, W.J., 1999. Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers (10th ed.): Boston (Houghton Mifflin).
  4. Welch, J.F., CEO, General Electric, 1993.
  5. Interpersonal Skills Laboratory [Online]. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.interpersonal-skills.com>. [Cited 2002-06-06]
  6. IEEE Careers, Skills in Demand [Online]. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.ieee.org/organizations/eab/PDI/pages/ind_overview_dir/skills_demand.htm>. [Cited 2002-06-06]
  7. Carnevale, A.P., Gainer, L.J., and Meltzer, A.S., 1989. Workplace Basics: The Skills Employers Want: Alexandria, VA (American Society for Training and Development). (ED 299 462)
  8. Brackin, Patricia, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, personal communication, 2002.
  9. Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, F.P., 2000. Chapter 3. In Joining Together: Group Theory and Group Skills (7th ed.): Boston (Allyn and Bacon).
  10. Adler, M.J., 1983. How to Speak, How to Listen: New York (Macmillan).