Sunday, January 13, 2013

Teams and groups...does distance make the heart grow fonder?

Recently a friend and colleague of mine, Tom Stanley, shared this great RSA video of renowned leadership specialist Khoi Tu talking about the "Secrets of Superteams". This talk left me with some important takeaways, especially as they relate to the management of students in a project based learning setting.
In my experience training teachers in PBL workshops one of the typical concerns is how to form and manage teams. Some PBL models like Edvisions seem to favor individuals mostly working on projects by themselves but the Buck Institute for Education model I mostly work with suggests forming teams or groups of four as a best practice. That's not to say that individual project work can't be useful but if we're holding collaboration up as an essential 21st Century Skill then harnessing the power of groups is one of the best ways to address this. But what about those students who prefer to work alone? Sometimes students prefer to work alone because they're afraid they'll have to do the bulk of the work while others slack off and receive the same grade. Certainly one of the challenges of effective group work is designing and managing for individual accountability. When some students don't carry their weight there needs to be a systemic way for the the group and the teacher to address this. One method I've seen used successfully is to award the group a grade or points for their presentation or cumulative product then multiply those points by the number of group members and ask them to divide among themselves. So in practice this might look like the worksheet pictured below. In this system in order for one student to be awarded more points there will be fewer points available for others. This allows students to connect evidence of their work to their points and have the sometimes difficult discussion of holding one another accountable. Feel free to contact me if my admittedly brief description of this method leaves you with questions.
One of the points made by the speaker in the video that struck me was his telling of how the Rolling Stones have endured for 50+ years by giving one another space. As he describes the different roles Keith and Co. play in the band Tu notes that they often grew tired of one another. This would lead them to break apart from each other for a time but inevitably returning to work together again. Great groups are made up of great individuals playing their roles but often individuals become frustrated when they are not allowed appropriate space to work. A popular idiom says "distance makes the heart grow fonder". Keeping this in mind when working with groups or teams in PBL, how might you allow for individuals to reap the rewards of a diverse group while also offering them opportunities and space to work alone? Perhaps that means groups identify work to be done by each member with a timeline to return to the group to share their work. Your groups may not produce hits like the Rolling Stones but allowing individuals the option to work alone may help them to be happier and more productive individuals and as Tu says, great teams are made up of great individuals.