Build Team Dynamics

Below are ideas to help you support students as they build their teams, establish team dynamics and face their first few challenges as teams

Use ice breakers

Team building activities (ice breakers) help students acquaint themselves with the members of their team. They can deliver insights into some of the principles and processes involved in working with a team.

Student exercise 1

Ice breaker

This ice-breaker helps you to get to know your team members and provides a basis for the discussion of your team project.

  1. Select one person in your team (e.g. the person to your left). Ask your partner the following questions:
  • What is your name?
  • What is one personal fact that you would like to share with the team (e.g. hobbies or interests, family)
  • What has been your experience of working in teams before?
  1. Everyone in the team takes turns to introduce their pair to the group by repeating their responses to the above questions.

For longer team projects where students will be working together for the duration of a course, you might consider giving students a more involved team building activity such as this straw building one:

Student exercise 2

Straw building


Design the world’s tallest straw structure. Your team will be given a number of drinking straws and one roll of masking tape. Your challenge is to work as a team to design and construct, in the time permitted, the tallest structure possible using the tape and straws.

Just to make it a little more challenging, your creation must be free standing (i.e. not taped to the floor, ceiling or piece of furniture).

Your team will have 10 minutes to plan and create a structure. Following the activity, each team will explain the features of their construction—please choose a spokesperson for your team.

Follow-up exercises

Think about how your team interacted while completing the challenge, then answer the following questions:

  • What did your team do immediately after receiving the challenge?
  • Did your team organize the task? If so, how?
  • Describe the specific roles (e.g. tape cutter, builder etc.) that each team member took and how these roles were decided.
  • Which aspects of the construction project did your team complete most successfully?
  • Which aspects might your team change next time?

(Adapted from R.F. Stein and S.N. Hurd (eds) (2000), Using Student Teams in the Classroom: A Faculty Guide,Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc., pp.48–49.)

Help students understand what makes a good team

Another way to help students establish their teams is to ask them to consider the factors that might contribute to an unsuccessful team, and conversely, what they can do to form a successful team. The following exercise helps students identify team behaviors and processes that might lead to a breakdown in the effectiveness of a team, and others that help create a successful team.

Student exercise 3

How to wreck a team

Stage 1

Brainstorm the question: “How we could wreck our team and make sure we fail and have a horrible time?”

Examples of answers include: forget to arrange meetings, not know how to contact each other, not consider who is going to do what.

Stage 2

Go through the ideas on the brainstormed list, asking: “If that’s how we would fail, how can we make sure we succeed?”

For example, to address the items above, we could: at each meeting, agree on a time and place for our next meeting; right now, exchange names, addresses, phone numbers and emergency contact methods; keep a written record of who has been allocated what task and make sure everyone has a copy; etc.)

Stage 3

Make a new list of actions you can take to make your group succeed.

(Adapted from G. Gibbs (1994), Learning in Teams: A Student Manual, Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford Centre for Staff, p. 16)

As the course progresses, if possible, use 5-15 minutes each week for fun bonding activities for teams or the class as a whole.  These will help reduce stress and reconnect. 

Consider also having teams do a midterm review, among themselves or with you.  For example, have teams answer the following 3 questions: What does your team do well?  What could your team improve upon?  What changes will you implement to improve your team processes.

It is most important to monitor and support teams by scheduling regular updates, reports or meetings with you.  This will encourage them to self-assess their progress and will keep you apprised of any challenges they are facing.