Every day students participate in some kind of teamwork activities or projects, whether it’s a science, literature or sports class. Using a classroom teamwork approach definitely helps to boost classroom dynamics and increase the interactivity factor, and when used effectively, teamwork can be a fantastic, effective tool to prepare students for their professional lives in which collaboration skills really matter.

Recent changes in the ways we define a successful and effective employee, manager, or freelancer require young people to be ready to demonstrate their teamwork skills. This, however, means much more than just willingness to work in a team and having high social skills. It’s time for school educators to notice this switch and welcome to classrooms the Talent-Based Approach to teamwork.

Challenging a classic approach to classroom Teamwork

The teamwork approach used by most teachers as part of their everyday classroom dynamics management does not actually help students develop the kind of teamwork skills most modern employers are looking for. What it does instead is help teachers introduce more interactivity in their classrooms and enhance social interaction amongst their students. This is all fine as long as you are taking the teacher’s perspective into account. Employers’ goals, however, are not to entertain their employees by organising teamwork activities, and they do not care that much about the social interaction, either. What they do care about is the effectiveness of the team and their work outcome.

Random grouping and leadership issues

A classic approach to a classroom teamwork falls short on helping students develop the efficiency, creativity, and skills management that are absolutely necessary for the overall success of a team. One might argue with that by saying that by working in teams, students focus on the project they were assigned and can plan how to achieve their goals. While this can happen potentially, in reality it is an incidental occurrence. When a teacher groups their students in teams, there is hardly ever any kind of meaningful planning for how this grouping should happen. Usually students are randomly put together by the teacher or are allowed to choose who they want to work with.

The first scenario means that some students who feel better or more confident about the subject, area, topic, or project might dominate the group and take over the project, therefore not allowing the other less-confident members to participate fully. While it might seem like a learning curve for those who are less-confident, in reality, it is not — the ‘stronger’ students who naturally dominate the activity do not yet possess the coaching skills to guide others so that they can learn and develop their skills. This also means that the team will not be effective, as only a few members can really contribute to the project while others simply go by until the project is over.

The second scenario in which students can choose who they want to work with means that they usually pick their friends or those who they like most. This not only creates separation, but again does not help to build an effective team with all its members possessing the right set of skills to complete the project.

With a classic approach to teamwork, there is some goal planning involved and students can decide what steps to take to achieve the result. But the main problem is that the more confident students usually take over the whole project, and the main goal will be getting a better grade rather than coming up with something they feel really passionate about.

Redefining Teamwork

Most successful companies nowadays look for employees who are well aware of their talents, assets, and skills, and who know how to volunteer and manage them effectively in a teamwork environment to contribute to the overall success of the company. When assigning a project to a team of skilled workers, successful companies need to be sure that each individual team member engaged in the project knows exactly what their role is and why they have been chosen for it.

Better yet, instead of being chosen, they often volunteer for a specific project because they already know well that they are best suited for it. This has nothing to do with the competitive attitude and the willingness to gain the manager’s trust before your colleagues do.

Equally important is a specific set of key skills that the individual employee needs to mobilise not only to complete the project, but also for the project to be successful and delivered on time. Putting random people together, even if they have the same positions in the company, is no longer a good strategy. Even though these people might be equally qualified to complete the task, some of them may be more suitable than others because they will possess a different set of unique skills, attitudes, personal experiences, and even preferences that when used appropriately and matched with other team members’ talents will mean success for the whole company.

The Talent-Based Approach to teamwork in classrooms

To respond to new market trends and to support students in developing the right set of skills that will be appreciated by their future employers, it is necessary to adopt the Talent-Based Approach to teamwork. It can be done easily by following a few steps and principles that will help teachers introduce it in their classroom environment. The most important one for teachers is to change the way they look at their students and start seeing them as talented individuals with each of them possessing unique set of assets.

The next task is to plan projects and classroom activities that appeal to these talents. Then it’s just a question of appropriate grouping. The process will require some skillful planning and ongoing observation, which are already critical parts of teaching duties — what is left is just a matter of using the evidence for the sake of cultivating the Talent-Based Approach.

For a step-by-step guide on how to plan your students’ teamwork using the main principles of the Talent-Based Approach, read “Cultivating a Talent-Based Approach to Classroom Teamwork.”

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Vito Matt and Magdalena Matt are Curriculum Developers and Instructional Designers for e-learning courses, interactive workshops and conferences, and educational mobile app games.

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