August 21, 2009

Group Work Tip: Make Leaders Accountable for Group Performance

By: in Effective Teaching Strategies

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Faculty who regularly use group work are always on the lookout for new and better ways of handling those behaviors that compromise group effectiveness—group members who don’t carry their weight and the negative attitudes students frequently bring with them to group work.

A faculty team at the U.S. Air Force Academy reports positive results from a unique approach that involved making group leaders partially accountable for their group’s success while at the same time giving those leaders some power to reward or penalize individual members based on what those members contributed.

The rationale for this approach comes from how groups function in the “real world.” In most professional contexts, leaders are to some extent responsible for how their groups perform, and those leaders also have some control over those who serve on teams with them.

Using a couple of different measures of academic ability, teams with four to six members were formed. In the experimental teams, members were told to choose a formal leader. The control groups had no formally designated leaders. The task involved selection of a publicly traded company and analysis of that firm’s financial report. Findings were presented by the teams to a panel of three financial accounting instructors. Points on this assignment represented 25 percent of the final course grade.

In addition to the 150 points possible for the assignment, leaders received a 25-point incentive if their teams ranked in the top third of all these projects. Leaders received 15 points if their groups ranked in the middle third and 5 points if their groups ranked in the bottom third. Leaders were also given 25 points per group member to distribute to individual members based on what those individuals contributed to the group. “This structure allowed the incentivized team leader to function as a leader with limited control over team members while maintaining responsibility for the end product.” (p. 793)

Scores showed that the teams with leaders who had these incentives performed significantly better than did the control groups. Results also documented a decrease in social loafing and improved attitudes about group work for those in teams with leaders with incentives. It’s an approach that might be worth trying in other courses where group work is being used to prepare students for collaboration in professional contexts.

Reference: Ferrante, C. J., Green, S. G., and Forster, W. R. (2006). Getting more out of team projects: Incentivizing leadership to enhance performance. Journal of Management Education, 30 (6), 788-797.

Excerpted from Leaders with Incentives: Groups That Performed Better, The Teaching Professor, April 2007.

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