Agile Student Teams: The Secret To Make Groupwork Work

Developing effective teaming skills is a critical requirement for future readiness. In the world of complex challenges, real teams are the key to success, not just groups. Thus, one of the central objectives of an Agile Classroom is to enhance students’ ability to learn and work in real teams.

When it comes to working collaboratively, we prefer to have real student teams, which typically possess five characteristics that make them highly effective.

  1. They are small, ranging from 3-5 people. The smaller the team, the lesser the communication and decision-making overhead, which helps to minimize cognitive load.
  2. They have shared ownership over all the learning and work. Anyone can do any task versus static assignments,  often working on the same task together (i.e., swarming).
  3. They are cognitively diverse because complex challenges require diversity in thinking through problems.
  4. They are multi-strengthed, as each team member has a different strength to contribute. Complex challenges require many strengths to solve, hence why collaboration is essential. 
  5. Finally, they are long-lasting and stable. Great teams are forged over time by overcoming challenge after challenge together, which helps them develop strong bonds, safety, trust, and shared team identity. All of this leads to greater resilience, creativity, and even friendships.

Real teams offer several benefits that are not available in workgroups. They are more productive because they have established communication and collaboration patterns, and each member knows the strengths and weaknesses of other members. They also develop a greater sense of trust in each other, which leads to better collaboration, faster decision-making, and a stronger sense of commitment to the team’s goals and each other. Furthermore, real teams are better able to innovate because they have a deep understanding of each other’s skills and perspectives, allowing them to develop more creative solutions to complex problems. Finally, real teams create a more inclusive and supportive environment where members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving. Form real teams for real-world skills and to make groupwork actually work.

To highlight the advantages of a stable team over a short-lived workgroup is to compare a pickup basketball team to a professional basketball team. A pickup basketball team is like a workgroup comprised of individuals who don’t know each other well and haven’t played together before. They might have some basic skills but have yet to develop a deep understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, resulting in a lack of cohesion. In contrast, a professional basketball team is much like a stable team, where players have spent years playing together, developing their skills, and building trust and camaraderie. They know each other’s tendencies, allowing them to play as a team and achieve more than they could as individuals.

With all the benefits of real teams, we recognize that some students may not yet possess the skills to work effectively in teams. In addition, working well on one’s own is a prerequisite for productive collaboration. We suggest scaffolding collaboration over time, from working individually to working in a real team. See the Spectrum of Collaboration on our approach to scaffold collaboration.

5 Attributes of Agile Student Teams
5 Attributes of Agile Student Teams

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