“A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong.” Tecumseh

Even if a student is studying at home, he or she is not alone. Someone wrote the ‘book’ and someone assigned the work, someone will review the work, and family is providing the safe shelter. That is a team by any definition. And no individual is a smart as the team. Students will discover that when they become employees.

Team Building Fundamentals and Best Practices.

Teamwork by its very nature is a highly leveraged activity: People from diverse backgrounds contributing their skills and knowledge whilst working towards a common goal. The rules, fundamentals and best practices do not change whether the people are in the same room or scattered across the globe.

Before gathering individuals together in a collective effort it helps to understand the ‘nature’ of teams.

A Team

  • Is united around a clear goal.
  • Usually has shared or rotating leadership.
  • Is structured to work together to achieve that goal.
  • Shares responsibility for achieving that goal.
  • Members depends on the other members.
  • Members build relationships with other members.
  • Members are empowered to contribute their skills and experience.
  • Demands a consensus decision.
  • Measures itself by the goals it sets for itself.
  • Is usually formed to solve subjective not objective issues.
  • Is it a Team? Or is it a Committee? Know the difference.

A Committee

  • By nature it is administrative in nature.
  • Usually has a strong leader.
  • Usually formed to decide if something needs to be done.
  • Usually has an oversight responsibility.
  • Normally assigns tasks to others outside the committee and only oversees and measures their effectiveness.

The Fundamentals of Team Formation.

  • The team’s goal must be clearly identified and agreed.
  • The resources to achieve the goal must be identified and agreed.
  • The right people must be involved.
  • The recommended action must be practical and appropriate.
  • The right resources must be used.
  • The larger context and implications must be considered.
  • The time scale agreed upon must be reasonable.
  • The results must be used as a basis for further improvement.

The Six Best Practices of a Successful Team

  • Teamwork is mutual inquiry requiring mutual respect.
  • Listening is as important as talking. Both are interpersonal skills.
  • Thinking in a team is difficult without rules of conduct.
  • Teamwork is a non-competitive quest to make meaning.
  • Teamwork is not a debate with winners and losers.
  • Mutual inquiry is an iterative process.
  • Mutual Respect.

 Mutual inquiry with mutual respect is more likely to succeed. So, rules of conduct must be in place. Respectful listening and discussion is much more productive. Don’t interrupt, don’t attack a person, question their ideas. Be courteous.

Listening and Talking.

Mindful deliberate listening is not only courteous it helps mutual understanding and avoids misunderstandings. It is one half of our interpersonal skill. The other half is talking, and talking can either be a minefield or a rich source of discourse. It depends on how well we conduct a collaborative thinking exercise.


 Thinking, either as an individual or collective effort, is why the team has come together, since the team’s only purpose is to solve a problem and the only way to solve problems is through thinking, and the only way to think is in questions, and that is best achieved by a rules-based, step-by-step process.

A Quest for Meaning.

The only reason for a team to exist is to mutually make sense of something that is not making sense, and has so far eluded individual efforts at making sense or meaning.

Winners and Losers

 A team focused on a common goal is not a debate between members. The team wins collectively or fails together.

Teamwork is an Iterative Process.

The chances that a team will come up with the right solution to the right problem at its first attempt are not good. Patience is required.  Also required is the ability to learn from previous iterations. What your team should be doing is collectively building mental models of a suggested solutions and then interrogating the model until they are happy that it works.

Conclusion. Working in teams is Student-Centric Learning.

If you are a teacher and want to help your students become involved in their own learning, teams are the way to go. You probably already know how difficult staying on-track, on-message or on-point can be. If you would like to deploy a step-by-step method that will keep everyone on the same page and help guarantee the success of your group by ensuring your team thinks critically, collaborates well, solves the right problem and communicates the agreed solution clearly, then click here and spend seven minutes learning how.