February 4th, 2015

Group Work: What Do Students Want from Their Teammates?


Providing students with useful information about how to function effectively when they work in groups stands a good chance of improving what the group produces. It also helps students develop important skills they can use in group activities in college and beyond. Providing the information doesn’t guarantee that students will make use of it, but it’s a better option than not providing it.

Much of the information that can help students work better in groups is straightforward. It’s not rocket science, conceptually difficult, or hard to implement. Take the study below, which arrived at advice for students via an interesting empirical design. The researchers started with six components of teamwork identified elsewhere in the literature:

  1. contributing to the team’s work;
  2. interacting with teammates;
  3. keeping the team on track;
  4. expecting quality, as in having high expectations for what the group produces;
  5. having relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities; and
  6. conflict resolution, as demonstrated by respect for the ideas of others and active involvement in problem solving.

Eight hundred students in three different business courses, each taught more than once over a three-year span, used these criteria to assess peers in their groups, in some cases twice during lengthy group assignments and once otherwise.

After group activities ended, students responded to these statements about each individual in their group:

  1. I would like to be on a team with him/her again;
  2. If I were choosing my team, he/she would one of the first people I’d choose;
  3. I was satisfied with his/her contribution to the team;
  4. I was overall satisfied with his/her performance as a team member; and
  5. Grade this person’s teamwork from 1 to 100 with 100 being an amazing team member and 0 being ‘Is that his/her name?’

The researchers believe more emphasis should be given to these “critical outcomes of team effectiveness.” (p. 287) They then used regression analysis to assess the impact of the six criteria on scores individuals received on the five outcome measures. And here’s where the information gets useful for students. For example, “the interpersonal constructs of contribution [the first criterion], communication and conflict resolution variables were all significantly driving whether a student would want to be on a team again with this particular teammate.” (p. 290) So, what were the most sought after characteristics? “The person whom others want to choose first tends to be reliable, pursues excellence and is engaged. This person is more than a good team member, he or she stands out as a mature leader.” (p. 290)

Here’s their overall conclusion: “As a result of this research, we would recommend to be assessed highly by their peers that team members should focus on contributing to the team’s work, communicating effectively with teammates, caring that the team produced high-quality work, pulling his or her own weight, and being actively involved in solving problems that face the team.” (p. 290)

The results aren’t all that surprising. Those of us with lots of experience working in groups (given the plethora of faculty committees, does that leave any of us out?) could have predicted the results, but most students don’t have extensive group experience or haven’t had good experiences, so they don’t have this insight.

Do you have to spend time in class covering this content? I don’t think so. A single-page summary culled from material here could be posted on the course website, or given to groups for discussion as they start working together. The article elaborates on the six contributions made by effective team members and summarizes with two specific dimensions for each criterion. These could easily be reformatted as a peer evaluation form.

I’m getting close to completing a book on group work, and I’m amazed at how much work researchers have done in this area and how many good resources are available. The works make very clear that students don’t learn to work well in groups simply by doing group work. They need direct instruction. It’s up to faculty to design group activities that advance content knowledge, develop the skills of the discipline, and teach students how to work effectively with others.

Reference: Crutchfield, T. N. and Klamon, K., (2014). Assessing the dimension and outcomes of an effective teammate. Journal of Education for Business, 89 (6), 285-291.

  • Elizabeth Fisher

    Hello, ma I make a PDF of this article to share with students in my class. I think it would be great to have them read and commit to the strategies.

  • Elizabeth Fisher

    That is, may I make a PDF …

    • Hello Elizabeth,
      You are welcome to share the article with your students. Thanks for checking.

      Mary Bart
      Editor, Faculty Focus

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  • Françoise Breton

    Great job! Inspiring. I will traduce in french for my post graduate longlife learning teachers students. I will make a survey to check their satisfaction about their collaborative production. Thank you!

  • Jerry Kolwinska

    This was a very useful article. I have my students do a major group project over the course of the semester. The six components of a good team experience were especially helpful, and I plan to share them with my students. I use a similar evaluation at the end of the project, but will expand my evaluation sheet to include some of the five statements given here.

    One of my challenges has been getting students to be more honest in their assessments of peers, and these statements will improve the validity of the feedback students give about their peers' efforts.

  • Dr Florina F Estrada

    Good morning from Brunei! I find this article quite inspiring. Last year, my colleague and I made a research on Task-based learning as a teaching-learning strategy for developing effective team communication skills. We are finalizing the full paper for our in-house publication. I will share this article to all who may find it useful and inspiring!

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  • docpipnz

    Hi Mary – another great article, and I'd like to use it with a class I'm just getting started on – also to incorporate the wisdom from this article in a 'quick guide' from our teaching development-type unit. Okay with you to do both? Would obviously attribute appropriately.
    thanks for the sharing!

    • Hi docpipnz,
      Yes, you are welcome to share the article in the ways you described. We're glad you found the piece helpful!

      Mary Bart
      Editor, Faculty Focus

  • Kieran Mathieson

    Thank you for writing this, Dr Weimer. I'm looking forward to reading your book; group learning is something I don't understand well.

    Suggestions for a future article:

    1. How do students and faculty use these results to form teams? Is there a way to predict a student's propensity to act well in a team?

    2. What processes can students use to manage teams?

    3. How can faculty assess the contribution that each team member makes to a team? Could we use the last item on the instrument from Crutchfield and Klamon to compute a contribution score?

    Thanks again,
    Kieran https://cybercour.se

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