10 Tips for Working in Student Teams

Learning to work in teams is vital to academic and career and job success. The key to successfully working in student teams is following these 10 tips.

Chances are pretty strong that you'll be placed in student groups and teams in several of your classes while in college. And if you're a business major, you'll probably find a majority of your upper-division classes have team projects. Successfully working in teams is not only a vital skill to learn for your academic success in college, but a career skill high-valued in today's workplace.

So, how can you become a successful member of a team -- whether it's your first group experience or your twentieth? Review these 10 tips for working in student teams.

1. Choose Team Members Wisely.
In some cases, your professor will assign students to teams, but in many more cases, students will be given the option of choosing team members. You may feel some pressure to choose your roommate or sorority sister, but your choice of team members should revolve less around who you are friends with than who has the right skills and motivation to excel in the team assignment.

2. Get to Know Your Team Members.
One of the best things any team can do to help individual members bond as a team is to share information about each other and seek out common experiences, cultures, attitudes, etc. A team-building, team-bonding session is important for the overall functioning of the team -- especially by the end of the project when things sometimes get a bit crazy.

3. Exchange Vital Information.
Share all the key communications information -- phone numbers, email addresses, social handles -- as well as other important pieces of data, such as class and work schedules, and best times to meet. Create a master list with all the key information and distribute it to each team member.

4. Choose/Agree Upon a Leader.
For some team projects, the professor may appoint the leader. In situations in which no team leader has been identified, take the time in an early team meeting to identify and choose a team leader (or leaders). Regardless of the size or composition of the team, every team needs a leader to make certain the things that need to get done get completed.

5. Identify Each Member's Strengths.
Depending on the context of the assignment, identify each team member's strengths. For example, some people are better writers while others are brilliant at researching. Some people love to make presentations, while others would rather design the presentation (but not partake in it). Once you have identified each other's strengths, divide the critical tasks according to abilities and interests.

6. Actively Participate/Complete Assignments.
You cannot be mad at other team members who do not complete their work (the so-called slackers of the team) if you do not actively participate and complete your assignments. Even if you dislike the class or dislike your team members, or even if you are simply taking the class pass/fail, put all that aside and treat the work with the respect it deserves. You'll learn more -- and the team should earn a better grade because of it.

7. Don't Monopolize Conversations.
Even if you think you have the best ideas -- or even if you are the best student in your group, do not monopolize the team meetings. The best teams are the ones in which team members bounce ideas off of each other, leading to collaborative -- and often better -- ideas and decisions. I know how difficult it can be to sit quietly when you have something to say, but some members who are shy or introverted will not speak up if you don't stop talking.

8. Don't Pout/Retreat When Ideas Not Chosen.
Group projects are ALWAYS a compromise of ideas, so you should go into these situations with the notion that even if you have a brilliant idea for the project, it might not be chosen by your teammates. Be flexible and open to compromise. The key here is accepting the idea and moving forward with whatever decisions the team makes -- and fully supporting those efforts.

9. Monitor Team Progress.
Sadly, almost all teams have social loafers -- so-called slackers at the college level -- that will not complete their tasks, or not complete them well. Certainly if you are the team leader, one of your key roles is making certain every one in the team is completing their assigned tasks. But there is no reason for you not to check in on the progress of the team when you are not the leader; remember, it's your grade at stake, so request the team leader keep the entire team abreast of every member's progress.

10. Use Peer Pressure to Motivate.
While the better students will often be motivated to perform their teamwork to the best of their abilities for the grade and/or the value of the learning experience, other students may need to be motivated to complete their work -- or complete it at a higher level. Because these students are most likely not motivated to work like you are, the best tool you have for encouraging them to work harder is using peer pressure -- using the power of the entire team to motivate them to work harder.

Final Thoughts on Working in Teams in College

Working in teams is something that most people will do their entire lives, so it should be a welcome opportunity to get the practice of doing so while in college. Teamwork can be exhilarating, educational, challenging, and frustrating -- all in the same team experience.

The key to successfully working in teams is following these 10 tips. And the more team experience you gain, the more comfortable you'll be working in groups.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary

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