Learning at Uni

La Trobe University

Learning at Uni

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University

Learning at Uni

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University

Learning at Uni

Achieve@Uni

Managing teamwork

Effective teamwork requires a range of skills that universities are committed to developing in their students; skills that you’ll be able to transfer to life beyond your studies. At La Trobe University ‘Teamwork’ also represents one of the Graduate Capabilities by which your academic progress is assessed. As such, you’ll be participating in teamwork assignments at each stage of your degree.

In this section you will learn:

  • Why teamwork is important
  • How to plan and manage the overall task
  • The importance of allocating roles
  • How to overcome difficulties
  • The importance of documenting your progress

Teamwork is valued not only by universities but also by prospective employers. In fact, private sector and government employers often tell universities that, when it comes to employing graduates, the number one skill they look for is the ability to work productively in a team. Teamwork also helps to...

  • Develop interpersonal skills
  • Build confidence
  • Develop leadership and negotiating skills
  • Exercise creative thinking
  • Develop problem-solving strategies
  • Get to know your classmates
  • Meet like-minded people
  • Develop your research, public speaking and presentation skills

Teamwork assignments typically require the completion of several inter-connected tasks over a number of days or weeks. Making sure that all the required tasks are completed properly and on time requires effective planning, coordination, communication and honesty - that’s how teamwork assignments are actually designed and this is how they’ll be assessed.

Have a first meeting with everyone present

Once you are placed in a team, schedule an initial planning meeting as soon as possible. It’s a good chance to get to know each other and exchange contact details, but you should also:

  • Identify and allocate the roles and specific tasks to be performed by each member of the team.

  • Try to immediately work out a schedule of future meetings and ‘checkpoints’.
  • Decide on the most practical way to communicate and exchange ideas or work in progress. Discuss access and preferences in regard to email, SMS, Facebook, Skype, UCROO or other social media platforms, but remember that you should also arrange to meet face to face when possible (particularly if your assignment requires a final presentation that will need to be rehearsed).
  • Decide how to document your progress, for example by nominating someone to keep ‘minutes’ of each meeting (you may be required to submit these as part of the assessment criteria).
  • Discuss some ‘ground rules’. This could include a discussion of when, how and how often it is/isn’t appropriate to contact other team members; behaviour and conduct (including attitudes to swearing) during meetings and communications; the importance of open and honest discussion of progress or changes in direction
  • Consider back up plans if someone becomes ill or is struggling to complete their tasks on time, as this may impact negatively on the work of other team members.

Any teamwork project has a greater chance of success when everyone understands the overall task and knows what they are personally responsible for. When allocating roles, you should consider the skills/knowledge each member brings to the task or wishes to develop, as well as what constraints each member has (time; living distance from uni; cultural restrictions on activities; language; disability, etc.) Remember, group work is supposed to be inclusive, not exclusive. Allocating clear and achievable roles is the best way to keep everyone included.

Potential Roles within a team: These are intended either to fulfill a specific task, or to help the group function as a whole. Each group member can take on both a task-driven and a function-driven role.

Task Driven: identify key concepts and build definitions of them; take notes from relevant readings; conduct research into existing scholarship and sources of information; write questionnaires and conduct surveys; devise graphs and tables; find or take useful pictures; make and edit video and sound recordings; prepare the design of slides and handouts.

Function Driven: Coordinator, Planner, Initiator, Information seeker, Opinion seeker, Goal setter, Deadline setter, Progress monitor, Evaluator, Decision pusher, Spokesperson, Trouble-shooter, Mediator, Motivator, Record keeper.

Consider building a table such as the one presented here, matching the skills and strengths of each group member (as well as skills they may not have but would like to develop) with appropriate roles.

NAME

Good at…

Likes doing

FUNCTION ROLES

TASK-DRIVEN ROLES

Stephen

Building powerpoints

Keeping records

Record keeper

Prepare and design slides for final presentation

Imogen

Filming and video production

management

Goal setter

Identify key concepts; make and edit videos

Khalid

Research

Surveys with the public

Information seeker

Devise graphs and tables to show findings of research

Sara

Writing

Public speaking

Spokesperson

Plan final presentation

The individual tasks that make up a teamwork project are all inter-connected and require regular discussions of progress and problems encountered. It’s important to check one another’s progress and ensure that individual activities are in keeping with the requirements and timelines of the overall project. In order to do this, it’s a good idea to decide on regular checkpoints.

A checkpoint is an agreed date by which certain tasks in the overall project need to be completed, or progressing. These dates should be discussed and agreed upon by all group members from the first time you meet. It’s important that the checkpoints are set at regular intervals and allow a realistic amount of time to complete each related task. Each checkpoint requires an open and honest update from each group member.

Example: Checkpoints Table

Using the following example, you may wish to build a table with agreed checkpoint dates, listing the name of each team member, the task they agree to have completed by that date, with notes about progress achieved or required.

DATE

NAME

TASK

COMPLETED?

NOTES

April 20

Stephen

Write questions for survey

yes

Circulated via GoogleDocs on April 18.

April 27

Imogen

Build PowerPoint template

no

Pictures need to be edited

May 4

Khalid

Find background readings

no

More readings needed on methodology

May 11

Sara

Write project proposal

yes

Circulated to team members on May 2nd via email

Teamwork is rewarding but it doesn’t always run smoothly. Part of your assessment will be directed at how well you worked together in order to overcome the obstacles that inevitably arise when undertaking teamwork.

Typical problems and some workable solutions include:

Keeping in contact: make and circulate a contact list for all members to use and make sure it’s clear who has to communicate what, with whom, by when.

Sticking to checkpoints and/or attending meetings: if somebody is failing to meet progress checkpoints or attend meetings, try to find out why. There’s usually a simple answer. If they are having difficulty, try to find ways to help; but make sure the person who falls behind contributes fairly in return.

Problems with technology: Find out who is skilled at using different forms of technology, share your knowledge and make sure nobody is expected to use a program or device they will struggle with. This will only slow the progress of the entire group.

Problems with personalities: This is the most common difficulty that groups encounter when undertaking teamwork and can be the most difficult to solve. Clear, calm and respectful communication between group members is essential. Try to discuss specific problematic behaviours rather than criticising the person. Asking other group members or tutors to mediate between conflicting members can also be useful.

Teamwork assessments are not simply about what you produce in the end; they are also about how you got there. In order for your lecturer to understand how each team member worked in order to achieve the overall objectives they will often require the submission of a record of all meetings (called ‘minutes’) as well as a personal reflection from each team member in which they assess both themselves and the other members of the team.

If you need help with minute-taking, check this website

Basic things to include on your minutes:

  1. Date
  2. Who was in attendance (in person/online, eg Skype); including who was in charge of the meeting - know as 'The Chair'
  3. A list of agenda items (circulate agendas in advance so people have time to prepare for meetings)
  4. Record action items – items that have been assigned to a team member as a result of the meeting, and any notes about expected completion or follow up.
  5. When the next meeting will occur.

Minutes of meetings should be circulated to the whole group soon after the meeting as a reminder of what has been discussed or agreed, particularly for action items.