Clarifying their team purpose
Give students an opportunity to clarify and define their team project to ensure a shared understanding of what is required and to start planning. For example, they may be asked to work together on the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the task or project?
- What are we expected to produce?
- How will the project be assessed? What are the grading criteria?
- What are the main components of the project?
- What are the deadlines?
- Are their guidelines?
Establishing ground rules or team contracts
Written ground rules or contracts help students manage team processes and resolve difficulties. Either provide them with ground rules, or ask them to add to your list of ground rules, or ask them to negotiate their own. Examples include:
- All ideas and contributions in the team will be valued
- The work will be divided evenly among the team
- Team members will take turns chairing team meetings
- Members who cannot attend meetings will provide notice in advance
- Notes will be taken during meetings and circulated by email
- Ground rules will be reviewed several times throughout the project
- Problems will be addressed by the team as they arise
- Sexist, racist and homophobic comments are not permitted
- Tasks should be completed by agreed dates.
Additions you might ask teams to negotiate for themselves might include:
- the communications processes they will use (e.g., how often they will meet, how they will manage group emails and group documents)
- what their group values are (e.g., honesty, good listening, meeting deadlines)
- how they will avoid issues such as members arriving late to meetings, members not completing work on time.
If you would like to make ground rules more official, ask students to sign a written version of their team’s ground rules in the form of a team contract. This helps students make a commitment to the rules. Team contracts are particularly useful for long-term projects where students are expected to complete work outside class time.
It can be very useful for students to review their ground rules or team contract regularly to ensure they are staying on track and making progress. In some cases, students might revise the contract or rules to accommodate changes in the project or unexpected developments.
Help students set guidelines for team meetings
With team work, students learn how to organize and function effectively in meetings, if they don’t already know. Helping students set guidelines for team meetings shows them what is involved in the organization, structure, conduct and follow-up of meetings. In addition, it can significantly affect the success of their group and the quality of group projects.
A set of guidelines for meetings might include the following headings:
- Preparing for a meeting
- Conducting the meeting
- Seating arrangements for effective meetings
- Roles and responsibilities of team members
- Creating an agenda
- Recording the meeting
- Paying attention to the interaction of team members
- Identifying work that needs to be done between meetings
The following handout outlines the components of a typical meeting agenda. This can help students create their own agendas and learn how to conduct effective meetings.
What is a meeting agenda?
The meeting agenda is a roadmap for the meeting. It tells participants where they’re headed to help them stay on track. One of the main purposes of a meeting agenda is to give a sense of purpose and direction to the meeting. Typical components of a meeting agenda include:
- Notes of the last meeting A list of who was present and missing, and a record of what was discussed and decided, and who was responsible for taking action in relation to the decisions made. These notes remind everybody what happened, and allow everybody to check that the notes were taken accurately.
- Matters arising from the last meeting What happened as a result of the decisions taken, what progress has been made on action
- Items for discussion These have usually been agreed beforehand, and form the core of the meeting. They might include:
- a review of team roles
- updates on work completed to date
- initial discussion of how to analyse data.
- Any other business (AOB) Additional matters that have arisen as a result of the discussions, or which have been raised since the agenda was circulated
- Time and place of the next meeting Include details of the next meeting and a statement of what the meeting will be for.
(Adapted from G. Gibbs (1994), Learning in Teams: A Student Manual, Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford Centre for Staff, p. 9.)