Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Twelve Steps to Effective Classroom Teams ... and Beyond

Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Twelve Steps to Effective Classroom Teams ... and Beyond

Article excerpt


Instructors in business programs and other disciplines make frequent use of student teams to carry out projects and to facilitate shared learning (Buckenmyer, 2000). Although some instructors assemble the teams systematically and provide clear guidelines for making the teams effective (Cooper, 1990; Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008; Oakley, Felder, Brent & Elhajj, 2004; Siciliano, 2001), more often students receive minimal guidance on how to manage themselves for successful team experiences. As a result, they often dread being assigned to work in teams and often experience free-riders and incohesive teams, causing them to conclude that "teams don't work." This belief is unacceptable, given that most business educators agree that effective teamwork skills are critical competencies for college graduates (Boyatzis, Stubbs, & Taylor, 2002; Levy, 2011; Polzer, 2003; Whelan, 2010).

The authors use a 12-step process for building effective classroom teams and for teaching students how to make future teams successful. This particular approach is based on the following premises:

1. Classroom time is very limited.

2. A wide range of scholars and consultants have offered useful guidelines for creating excellent teams.

3. Many instructors "shoot their students in the foot" by ignoring those guidelines and setting up classroom teams that make it unlikely the teams will do well.

4. Working in excellent teams in classrooms and reflecting on the experience can help students work more effectively in other teams throughout their careers.

5. Teaching students to build excellent teams can be done in a variety of disciplines, not just in Organizational Behavior and Management.

6. Undergraduate and graduate programs in business and other fields offer priceless opportunities for repeated use of a framework like this one during a multi-year degree program to reinforce team development practices, both for near-term use and for a lifetime.

This article introduces readers to the 12 steps by describing a classroom-tested 40-45 minute presentation that has evolved over the last 15 years. That lecture and discussion, labeled hereafter as the "Presentation," can be used in the third or fourth week of a core undergraduate or MBA Management/OB course to introduce the class members to all the steps. Although the whole Presentation contains a useful body of information, any of the 12 steps can be used without the full-blown Presentation .

The description of the approach that follows is based on an OB/Management course slide presentation (the slides are available from the authors). Because classroom time is so scarce, we usually limit the Presentation and class discussion to 40-45 minutes. The Presentation seeks to provide a framework that can help students build excellent teams, both in the current class and beyond. When used in an OB or Management class, the Presentation also provides an opportunity to teach class members conceptual material and research results from the scholarship on individual and team effectiveness.

This approach has produced hundreds of successful teams over many years, as well as unusually high student evaluations of the courses, insightful student essays on their learning, the "buzz" on campus about the students' great team experiences in the courses, and teaching awards won by the instructors.


Embedding these 12 steps in any course actually makes it a "team effectiveness" course, even though it is probably not labeled as such. Very little class time needs to be set aside as team-development time. These steps take place during three different phases of a course: (A) Pre-Term Planning before the first class meeting, (B) Early Classes during the term, and (C) classes throughout the Remainder of the Term.

A. Pre-Term Planning

To start the 12-step process, the instructor makes decisions regarding several foundational steps before the first class meeting. …

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