When students engage in authentic exploration of effective communication strategies in an environment that supports reflection and collaboration, the collective benefit is that they don’t want to let each other down. They try harder. When individuals who are part of teams self-report and self-reflect, and engage in learning activities that build leadership knowledge—they perform at a higher level. They take more responsibility—they become real stakeholders in the greater good of the team. I would also argue that they learn more from each other and this, ultimately, is what improves outcomes. I remember learning about Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development in graduate school, but seeing it in action is quite inspiring.  I have found this result to be the norm for every class that engages in at least five team building activities.

At a minimum, I embed the following five activity threads:

  1. Online/Video•Reading•Quiz on Collective Intelligence and Leadership articles (10 minute mini-lessons totaling 90 min)
  2. Online/Metacognitive Reflections (self-monitoring) (3 X 5-10 min each)
  3. In-Person or Online/ Agile Scrum Meeting (15-30 min)
  4. In-Person/Whole Class Active Listening of Case Study (30-45 min)
  5. In-Person/Planning Memorandum with Sketch, “Three Common Traits” activity and Expert Team Meetings (90 minutes)

Expert Groups

An essential component of Team Building is forming Expert Groups which builds mutual accountability and applies the concept of collective intelligence. Collective Intelligence is a key term defined in thread #1.

Students first practice the concept of “expert groups” during the “jigsaw” activity on the second day of class when they “teach: the five required assignments to their “row teams.”

Team Jobs

Click here for Micro-Lecture defining team jobs.

The concept of the “expert groups” continues throughout the semester with students adopting these four roles/jobs:

  1. Scribe—transcribes the team answer/response. Handles the management of the document. Sets up Google Docs and PPT.
  2. Facilitator—coordinates team communication; responsible for collecting contacts and disseminating information; keeps track of time, including deadlines; uses a calendar, text message and/or Google doc.
  3. Editor—makes sure the document follows the appropriate style (APA) and helps individual writers with editing; uses a highlighter tool to focus revision on documents.
  4. Spokesperson—manages Q and A and informal presentations for the team; choreographs final presentation, including flow and organization, and plans dress rehearsal.

These job assignments are assigned on the Project Planning Memorandum, which builds mutual accountability in the group. The Planning Memorandum becomes the team contract—adding value to this standardized assignment and providing a documentation of the team terms—building mutual accountability. Project planning requires clearly defined goals and when students take ownership of specific tasks on the project and are held accountable for these aspects of the project, the project moves steadily towards success.

Team Sketch

Another important aspect of thread #5 is the discussion that takes place in the team during the sketch—how does the team visualize the project under time constraint? How well does the team communicate to create a clear idea?

Three Favorites: General To Specific Lesson

A quick community building activity that also teaches writing is the “Three favorite things” activity. In this activity students have 10 minutes to brainstorm three favorites, such as going to the movies, taking trips to the beach, tacos (favorite places to go/favorite food). But the challenge is that the team must agree on three favorites and then attempt to be as specific as possible. The example I model is asking a friend to get pizza. I say: your friend my be thinking frozen Diggornio’s pepperoni, mushroom at home on the couch watching television and you may be thinking Pizza My Heart downtown San Jose. So your job is to get as specific as possible. When I ask team to share their most specific favorite—I ask the class to listen and raise their hand if they can get the team to be MORE specific, so the lesson is that when writers use general concepts, the audience may have questions, or need clarification. Whereas when no hands go up, the team did a great job of being very specific. I teach that both strategies are useful in writing. In a summary, for example, the writer must balance general context that draws the reader into the topic with enough specific details to illustrate the particulars of this topic.

This activity is a great ice breaker for teams because the audience participation is fun, and surprising! I learn lots about youth culture during this session as students’ favorites reveal much about each particular class. But the lesson occurs on a day where the learning experience is valuable as students must then formulate a summary of their final project idea to the class “advisory board” and we will again test the general to specific concept by raising hands if more clarification of the project description is required—one of the most challenging aspects of technical writing is getting complicated systems into simple, understandable terms using a blend of general and specific.

 Language-based Pedagogy

Language-based pedagogy centralizes terms and definitions and asks students to apply the terms in authentic contexts.

Struggle Expected

Don’t get me wrong—I expect struggle within teams—that’s part of what I teach—that challenges are inherent in any collaboration—but if students’ have the tools that work to overcome these problems, then teamwork really can be dreamwork.