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How to build effective teams

What are the components of an effective group? Why do some groups thrive while others fail? Google’s People Operations Department wanted answers to these questions and commissioned a research project to find out. 

After several years of research and studying their own teams, Google’s research team found that while there are several behaviours that are important for team success, the most important factor was psychological safety. 

In a team with high psychological safety, explains Google, teammates feel safe taking risks. They feel confident that they will not be embarrassed or punished by other teammates.

It wasn’t about who was on the team, but instead how the team worked together. With this understanding, let’s look at the steps required to put together effective teams in your classroom. 

Step 1. Arrange the class into diverse teams

To achieve the benefits of a diverse team, you must have a group of five to seven students. While there are several methods for arranging teams in the classroom, there is really only one method that will allow you to achieve true diversity: the diversity-managed methodology. 

When using the diversity-managed method, the teacher uses their best knowledge to form groups from different backgrounds. Begin by defining the most important resource to your teams, such as academic achievement. Then divide by ethnicities or nationalities, then age and finally gender.  Other methods, such as student-selected or random allocation rarely achieve the level of diversity that a diversity-managed method does.

With teams divided into an even playing field, you give students a base to build psychological safety. 

Step 2. Ensure students understand how their contributions are assessed

Once students are arranged into their teams, it is important to outline the aims, impact and process of how their contributions will be evaluated. Having this information at the beginning of the team’s work together will help them give them an equal opportunity to succeed. 

Let’s look at the aims of using peer assessment to evaluate group work, for example. The aim is to include fairness in reviewing contributions each teammate has made toward the outcome. Group assessment also aims to grow personal and professional development. 

To give the groups structure, you will need to provide a grading rubric that gives teams a clear understanding of how the peer assessments will affect each individual grade. To help students prepare emotionally, you may also wish to explain to the class how to receive both positive and negative peer feedback.

 Having these clear guidelines sets expectations for how teams will work together so there are no surprises about what is expected of them.    

Step 3. Develop a team charter 

The team charter establishes the guidelines for how your teams will work together effectively. This is the key to building psychological safety in group work. 

The charter outlines how teammates will work together, make decisions and resolve conflict. To help teams form their charter, have your students discuss questions such as:

  • What is the team’s purpose and ambition?
  • What grade would each teammate like to achieve?
  • What skills would each teammate like to learn and practice?
  • When, where, and how will the team meet?
  • How will the team manage conflicts that arise?
  • How will teams ensure members are working towards both their personal goals and the team’s goals?
  • How will the team ensure that each teammate feels safe taking?

Here is a detailed resource to help you develop team charters in your classroom.

With the grading rubric mentioned in step two and the questions addressed in the team charter, group members have successfully built the base for psychological safety. Students can now take risks such as asking questions, proposing ideas or even admitting mistakes and the learning can really begin!

The above framework can help you build effective teams in your classroom. For more information on constructing effective teams, check out our eBook, the definitive reference guide for group assignments and teammate peer assessment. We even have an entire chapter dedicated to team building.

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